Developmental algorithms for robotics: Understanding the world of objects, interactions and tools

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  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council: £559,077.00

Funder Project Reference(s)

Effective start/end date01 Mar 201526 Jun 2018


This research project is a psychologically-inspired investigation of an analogy of infant play as the central mechanism for autonomous, self-motivated robots that learn the local physics of their world.

We note that infants and children at play exhibit exactly the kind of autonomous learning that would be very desirable in robotics. Infant play has a major role in the acquisition of new skills and cognitive growth. Noticing that early infants spend hours in play, we have designed a computer analogy of infant play and this project is an in-depth investigation into the use of play as a means of building subjective understanding of the physics of the local world.

The project will implement a play generator algorithm on an iCub humanoid robot and perform experiments with a wide range of scenarios involving varieties of objects. This includes playing solitarily with objects to learn their properties, and interactive play with a human participant. We also include experiments with tool use (using one object as a tool for acting on another) to investigate how objects may become extensions of self.

A panel of selected scientific experts on infants and play will provide their psychological expertise throughout the project and will also assist with the design of a series of matching experiments that will compare results from the robot model with those from selected psychological experiments on infants.

The data from the experiments will be analysed and interpreted to shed light on a set of scientific issues. When we report on the results we will also extract some general principles for robot learning through play. We will examine the applicability of these principles in new robotic and intelligent systems developments. For example, we anticipate particular applications in areas such as assistive technology and home care where the re-programming of mass-produced systems is not feasible. We believe technology with a developmental approach will have wide implications and provide an alternative to "building robots" by establishing the idea of "developing robots" for applications.