What language do robots speak with one another? Italian! Or rather, a new language has been developed that allows robots to interact and collaborate with other robots, and that language was developed by researches of IIT (Italian Institute of Technology), in Genoa. The language was first tested by making two humanoid robots work together, with one helping the other up from a sitting position. This ground-breaking development is part of a European program called An.Dy, which aims at producing a new algorithm for AI, enabling robots to communicate with humans and with each other alike. The algorithm allows the robots to exchange information effectively, working together towards shared goals. While this may look like basic dynamics from a human perspective, it is incredibly complex to apply it to a robot-to-robot interaction. The constant intermixing of cognitive and motor skills that humans develop naturally, in this instance, needs to be captured into usable equations.
Meet iCub, a frankly adorable robot whose job it is to help its fellow-humanoid machine get up from a chair. While the gesture looks familiar to a human observer, the kind of information that is exchanged to make it possible is not the same that comes into play during a human-to-human interaction. Whereas humans would focus on one individual wanting to get up and the other wanting, or being asked, and deciding to help, robots skip the deliberation part entirely (that one is still firmly in human hands). They focus instead on exchanging relevant data via wireless, sharing their respective position, speed of movement and the strain that each action is putting on their structure. iCub is programmed to intervene and help the other up when its partner’s movement is proving too taxing on the sitting robot’s structure. In other words, iCub needs to know when its friend can’t get up on its own so that it can step up and help.
Robots will be helping humans out
It’s easy to guess what the ultimate application of this technology is going to be. In the not-so-distant future, a robot just like iCub could help people with motor skills disorders or physical impairments. This may be achieved by fitting the human users with a sensor suit, so that the relevant parameters (such as position, weight and physical effort) can be measured and shared with the helper robot. A future version of Siri, thanks to this new language, might not only help us find a restaurant or google the exact spelling of a celebrity’s name, but also accomplishing practical tasks in our daily life.
Italian researchers leading the way
The IIT’s primary goal is to advance technological research in Italy and Europe and promoting higher scientific education. Its main laboratories are located in Genoa, but the Institute works with a network of eleven academic seats and research centres all over the Country. IIT researchers develop projects such as An.Dy and prototypes such as iCub by coordinating their efforts on cross-disciplinary platforms encompassing the fields of Lifetech, Robotics, Computational Sciences, and Nanomaterials.