Researchers from France’s Institut Cellule Souche et Cerveau have developed ‘an autobiographical memory’ for ISS’ liaison robot, Nao, allowing it to communicate better with the station’s rotating space crew.
The research which was led by CNRS senior researcher Peter Ford Dominey will enable the robot to pass on knowledge learnt from humans to other, less knowledgable humans. This technological progress will be best suited for operations onboard the ISS, where the robot – which is the station’s only permanent member – would liaise between the different crews that change every six months in order to pass on information.
Human culture stems from knowledge acquired through society’s shared experience. Cultural transmission enables new members of society to quickly learn from this accumulated experience. This is exactly how the researchers would want Nao’s memory to function on the ISS.
The team’s novel approach will have a human agent teach the Nao humanoid new actions through physical demonstration (by putting the robot’s members in the correct position), visual imitation (through the Kinect system), or voice command. These individual actions are then combined into procedures and stored in the robot’s autobiographical memory developed by researchers, thus enabling the robot to reproduce them for other human agents if needed.
According to the researchers, the autobiographical memory system will serve the purpose of meeting the challenges of cooperation between humans and robots – which is becoming more and more of a reality in the field of space operations with NASA-DARPA’s humanoid Robonaut 22 now permanently flying aboard the ISS.
To test their system, the scientists imagined a scenario that could occur on the ISS. The transmission of information on board is essential, since crews change every six months. In this scenario, an electronic card is damaged. Nao plays the role of the scientist’s assistant by following his directions, bringing or holding parts of the card during repair. If this same failure happens again, the memory of this event will enable the robot to use a video system to show the repair that was made to a new member of the crew.
It could also respond to questions regarding the previous event, while helping with the new repair. If a slightly different failure takes place, the robot could share its expertise on failures of this type, while recording the steps needed to resolve this new problem and then transferring them to the scientists in the next crew.
The researchers are now hoping to test their Nao robot in the real conditions of space operations, with zero gravity. They would also like to develop another area of application, assisting the elderly, with the robot this time playing the role of a personal memory aid.
Image and video courtesy of Inserm/Patrice Latron – CNRS