Robots learn to talk

2011-05-30 12:41
Sydney - They're not discussing the latest celebrity gossip or passing on stock tips just yet, but Australian robots have begun talking to each other - and in a language of their own devising.

The two "Lingodroids", developed by the University of Queensland, have picked up their shared language by playing location games that led them to construct a shared vocabulary for places, distances and directions.

"In their current state all they can talk about is spatial concepts, which I think is pretty cool as a starting point," said Ruth Schulz, director of the project.

"But the important part is that they are forming these concepts, they are starting to really understand what words mean and this is actually all up to the robots themselves."

Schulz describes the robots as "basically a laptop on wheels", but each is equipped with sonar, a camera, a laser range finder, microphones and speakers that allow them to speak to each other as they move around and map out their environment in "where are we" games.

Internal lexicon

With a small whirring sound the robots whiz around the maze-like office environment, negotiating obstacles such as desks and chairs and beeping when they are within hearing distance of each other.

Communicating through the beeps, the robots have an internal lexicon table that associates experiences, where they think they are in the overall map of the office, and place names they already know.

When a robot finds an area without a name it randomly generates a word for it. When the robots talk to each other, they tell the other robot about the area they have discovered, slowly building up an agreed lexicon.

So far, the robot language includes words such as "pize", "jaya" and "kuzo".

The research has proved so advanced that each robot can direct the other robot to a chosen location in the office, using only their shared language.

Schulz hopes the project will progress still further, with the next phase likely to be robots interacting with objects, such as by gripping them, and not just spatial concepts.

"The long term vision is robots that you can use in a domestic environment, a sort of you know, real people interacting with real robots in a natural way," she said.

Robots currently being used in households are reliant on button pushing, but Schulz feels this must be carried further so communication becomes more natural.

"You don't want to be pressing buttons to communicate with your robot in the home that you just want to clean your kitchen," she said.

"If you want it to clean your kitchen, you just have to say, 'Can you please clean my kitchen.'"
Read more on:    technology  |  robotics

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