One of the most, uh, striking robots at the IROS expo this year was Iuro, with its giant and highly expressive blue and white plastic head. Iuro can approach humans and ask them for directions to help it navigate around cities while acting in a “socially acceptable manner,” but at IROS, the robot was randomly (and hilariously) shifting back and forth between expressions of happiness, disgust, and astonishment, as you’ll see in our video interview after the jump.
Iuro, or Interactive Urban Robot, is manufactured by Accrea Engineering and is being used for research through a partnership between Technische Universität München, ETH Zürich, and the University of Salzburg. The platform is beefy and designed to be able to cope with typical urban obstacles like stairs and curbs, thanks to big shock-absorbing wheels and a suite of laser sensors on the base.
The base, however capable it may be, is certainly not the most interesting bit of Iuro. The robot has a huge plastic head with 21 actuators packed inside, giving it fully controllable eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, lips, ears, and mouth. Stereo cameras above the eyes and a Kinect sensor in the chest help Iuro to interact with humans it runs into on the street, interpreting speech and gestures to enable it to find its way from place to place without using maps or GPS.
The overall goal with Iuro is to teach robots to navigate using symbolic location identification, like "go down that street over there and take a left when you see the bus stop." Even humans have trouble with this sort of thing in unknown environments, and for robots, understanding those kinds of instructions requires the ability to recognize and interpret gestures, translating the vague wave of a hand that might accompany a phrase like "over there" into a direction. This research will eventually enable autonomous robots to figure out what they don't know and then ask the nearest human for help, without needing that human to provide information in the form of if/then statements.
[ Iuro Project ]