Sony gives robots learning support

Sony is developing robots capable of adapting and learning new skills as part of a European Union-funded research project.

The 4.3m Euro (£2.8) ECAgents project will attempt to bridge the gaps between complex systems research and IT, according to Stefano Nolfi, a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies in Rome, the project’s lead partner.

The four-year project – funded by the EU’s sixth framework programme on research – will extend the capabilities of existing technologies such as robots and mobile telephones, to allow them to become self-developing. Special algorithms and performance analysis tools will be investigated to design devices capable of evolving and interacting with the world around them.

Sony will be studying the interaction of humans with humanoid and pet robots, for whom prototypes and software have already been developed, and will be trying to improve their communication capacities. One humanoid has been programmed to interact with the robots and report on their behaviour to humans, and a number of prototypes will be made available to the project. Sony will also examine concepts of ‘lexicalisation and grammaticalisation’, and will try to develop a simulation of grammar processes to enable robots to communicate with each other.

Another arm of the project (co-ordinated by the Autonomous Systems Laboratory of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) will involve developing communication between functional wheeled robots, such as ‘Koala’ robots equipped with a panoramic camera and long-range infrared sensors, and ‘S-bot’ robots armed with panoramic vision, extensible grippers, colour LEDs, sound emitters and receivers.

A related study, co-ordinated by the Future Applications Lab of the Viktoria Institute of Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, will develop sensors allowing mobile phone software to learn from the environment in which the units are carried, possibly communicating independently about this data with handheld computers.

On the web