bots IN BRIEF
18 SERVO 12.2013
The interactions between animals and robots is always fascinating, and
generally the more intelligent the animal, the more interesting the
interaction. Researchers at the University of Portsmouth tried giving
chimpanzees a robotic doll to see how they'd react, and the result was
strikingly similar to humans.
Humans understand (mostly) that robots aren't alive, but that doesn't
keep us from interacting with them in the same way that we'd interact with
other living things. We look them in the eye, we talk to them, we respond to
their movements, and we can even form emotional bonds with them.
Working with chimpanzees from Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, researchers from the
University of Portsmouth's Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology used a robot doll to test
interactions with the animals. Called Robota, the doll was developed at EPFL's Learning
Algorithms and Systems Laboratory, led by Prof. Aude Billard. It has a moving head and moving
arms, and could make chimpanzee noises from a speaker in its chest. First, the chimps were
“Some of the chimps gave the robot toys and other objects, and demonstrated an active interest in
communicating. This kind of behavior helps to promote social interactions and friendships. But there were
notable differences in how the chimps behaved. Some chimps, for instance, seemed not interested in
interacting with the robot and turned away as soon as they saw it."
The robot was able to imitate motions made by the chimps which they immediately
recognized and responded to since imitation is an important part of social bonding. When the
robot made more human-like movements, however, the chimps were significantly less interested.
The reason that it's important to use a robot (instead of a human) in this research context is
that you have complete control over the experiment, and through testing, it may eventually be
possible to figure out what specific sounds and movements are used by chimps to (say) make
friends with one another.
iStruct — the robotic ape from DFKI in Germany — can now stand up on its hind
legs, making the transition from quadruped to biped that took humans like a million
years to successfully pull off.
The aim of this project is to develop a robotic system as well as biologically inspired
structural components which — if applied on the robotic system — effectively improve
the locomotion and mobility characteristics. In order to achieve this goal, an improved
perception of the environment and its own condition are needed. The structures are as
self-contained as possible with regard to sensing, sensor preprocessing, control, and
communication. The biologically inspired robot itself is an ideal test platform for foot and
spine structures. These structures can extend the already existing locomotion behaviors
of a robot and are used contemporaneous as carrier and sensor systems. This way,
different functionalities are united in one construction unit.