The iCub Open Source Robot Learns, Plays and Advances

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 17, 2009

We first covered the iCub, an open source robot, in a post last year.  It's a robotics project funded by the European Commission and there are several versions of the iCub (one is shown here) in research labs and at universities throughout Europe. The goal of the multi-year project, which began in 2004, is to imbue iCub with several types of "learning" capabilities, shedding light on how robots can become smarter, and on how human beings learn and understand each other.

The hardware design for iCub is publicly shared, and the software for iCub is open source. You can find the hardware specs here, and links for the software here. Recently, iCub has been in the news, with some interesting videos of its newfound capabilities, and evidence that it is one of the more advanced humanoid robots anywhere.

As Physorg notes, the iCub is modeled after a toddler:

"The iCub robot stands at just over three feet high, or about the size of a three-year old child. Its face has just a hint of a nose and mouth, and its big eyes allow it to see and track objects in its environment. Its body consists of many electronic circuits built into articulated trunk and limbs that give it a wide range of movements. Sensors allow the robot to feel, and some iCubs can speak."

You can find many videos of iCub performing various actions on YouTube, and there are two good videos of it here. The iCub has come a long way since we covered it last year. It can track objects "visually," and is aware of moving objects even if they are off to the left and right. What's really interesting, though, is that iCub is showing signs of being able to learn, placing it squarely among the world's most capable robots.

The Physorg article explains how iCub learns and makes decisions:

"In a recent experiment in Lyon, France, iCub demonstrated that it could change roles in a game. iCub watched two humans play the "game", in which one lifted up a box to reveal a toy, and the second lifted up the toy and put it down again. The first person then replaced the box over the toy. Having watched the game, iCub could take the part of either player."

You can watch an interesting video of iCub learning about objects here. As MSNBC explains, iCub may also end up capable of practical applications:

"...that could mean using it in hospitals to help patients in need of physiotherapy by playing games with them. In the longer term, iCub could gain enough autonomy to help around the house, making its own assessments of needs."

This is an open source project, so if you're a budding roboticist, the building blocks for a smart robot are freely available to you. There are several other interesting open source robotics projects going on around the world. For more on them, see our previous post