10 Month | Month 2013 ALN World | alnmag.com
feature | ZOOBOTICS
AVATAR COME TO LIFE?
Imagine that while you are lying still a robot learns your mind; embodies you. Then your
surrogate self can act for you in the real world, relating to people and doing tasks as you
would do them yourself.
Controlling a Robot by Thought
Abderrahmane Kheddar’s robots aren’t Avatar yet, but he and his team have taken steps
forward in a process called physical embodiment. “Your mind controls the robot”, Dr
Kheddar explains. “By connecting its embedded sensors to yours, the robot learns your
intentions, and translates your thoughts into actions. So if there are muscles cut off, say by
damage or a stroke, the robot can translate your wishes into the actions you would take,
could you perform them. In that way you feel that this robot is part of you; that it can be you”.
High-Level Look at the Science
The news is that Dr Kheddar’s robots don’t simply learn to follow instructions about where to move, and
they don’t only move in straight lines; rather, his robots learn units of movement connected with objects—a glass of juice is there
for someone to drink; an umbrella is there for you to open when it’s raining—and can mimic the unique movements of a subject.
For example, a subject, we’ll call him Abder, (who is wearing headgear with electrodes) sees a selection of juices and focuses
on the orange juice, which he thinks about picking up and drinking. His intentions are communicated to the robot, we’ll call him
Doppelgänger. In turn, Doppelgänger picks up the orange juice automatically using motion similar to that of Abder’s arm.
How does Doppelgänger acquire the object-action memory unit? Abder, with electrode headgear, steers the robot to look
around at the objects in Abder’s environment. Abder teaches Doppelgänger to recognise objects using its embedded sensors
and the object-task pattern is stored. The next time Abder looks at orange juice through Doppelgänger, the orange juice flickers.
The frequency propagates in Abder’s visual cortex which brain waves are processed to confirm Abder’s intention toward the
orange juice. When confirmed, Doppelgänger reaches for it.
And, very interestingly, the robot is programmed to reason about the context and also to reconsider action. So if Abder thinks
about drinking a glass of orange juice, the robot knows what to do and starts to pick-up the juice. If Abder changes his mind,
the robot resets. Doppelgänger capacity to read your intentions even if they change is called inbuilt error-related potential (ErrP).
If negative ErrP is detected the robot tries again.
Perchance to Dream
I asked Dr Kheddar if there might come a time when I could be embodied robotically and so be myself, even if my brain
descends into dementia—or whether a robot might embody a crow and be able to solve complex problems involving tools,
He told me that people like dreams and dreaming and he doesn’t know what possibilities might evolve.
Abderrahmane Kheddar is Director, CNRS-AIST Joint Robotics Laboratory, Directeur de Recherche -
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, and Team leader, Interactive Digital Humans - CNRS-LIRMM.
He is located in Ibaroki. Japan.
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