Robot learns language skills

Hertfordshire and Plymouth University researchers have developed iCub, a one metre-high robot designed to pick up language skills in the same way as a child.

Prof Chrystopher Nehaniv and Prof Kerstin Dautenhahn at Hertfordshire’s School of Computer Science are working with an international consortium led by Plymouth on ITALK (Integration and Transfer of Action and Language Knowledge in Robots).

ITALK aims to teach the robot to speak using the same methods used by parents to teach their children. Nehaniv and Dautenhahn, who are European leaders in artificial intelligence and human robot interaction, will conduct experiments in human and robot language interaction to enable the robot to converse with humans.

Typical experiments with the iCub robot will include activities such as inserting objects of various shapes into the corresponding holes in a box, serialising nested cups and stacking wooden blocks. Next, the iCub will be asked to name objects and actions so that it acquires basic phrases such as ‘robot puts stick on cube.’

Nehaniv said: ‘Our approach is that robot will use what it learns individually and socially from others to bootstrap the acquisition of language, and will use its language abilities in turn to drive its learning of social and manipulative abilities. This creates a positive feedback cycle between using language and developing other cognitive abilities. Like a child learning by imitation of its parents and interacting with the environment around it, the robot will master basic principles of structured grammar, like negation, by using these abilities in context.’

Dautenhahn said: ‘iCub will take us a stage forward in developing robots as social companions. We have studied issues such as how robots should look and how close people will want them to approach and now, within a year, we will have the first humanoid robot capable to developing language skills.’