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Compliant neurorobotics

By Alois Knoll

Categories : Area : Computin... Area : Neurosci... Technology Read...

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The neuromechanical models from HBP produce robots with advanced control capabilities, that leverage rapid prototyping technologies and are safe by design.


The Neurorobotics Platform of the Human Brain Project is a fundamental enabling technology for closed-loop neuroscientific experiments, transfer learning and embodied AI. Nevertheless, an equally important stepping stone for smart robotics is the development of technologies that enable the fabrication of lightweight robots that are safe by design, can be imbued with robust autonomous control, can operate with low power requirements, and can be iteratively prototyped at a reasonable cost with minimal turnaround time. As is well-known, the development and uptake of various rapid prototyping technologies has made this later point manageable. The other aspects of this wish list, however, remain open challenges that engineers usually strive to address independently one from the other.


The HBP is spearheading the development of compliant robots as tools and models for neuroscientific experiments, and by doing so leverages thousands of years of evolution in creating compliant robots that, by design, respond to the challenges above. In particular, we are demonstrating that actuators based on artificial muscles and tendons can be controlled through low-power neuromorphic hardware, while conferring a robot with built-in compliance that makes it safer by design. As the set of technological components that results from this work matures, one can envision a number of brain-derived technologies that implement them.


A straightforward example would be an arm-and-shoulder prosthesis based on this lightweight compliant technology, with myoelectric interfaces. This prosthesis can be developed in simulation and then iteratively customized or adapted to the characteristics of a specific individual. This is made possible by the fact that every single aspect can be simulated, then physically implemented and tested with efficiency, at a low cost, and with a short turnaround time. Disruptive products based on this robotic technology will most likely involve a complex artificial brain running on neuromorphic hardware and capable of super-fast learning, controlling soft bodies built with compliant musculotendinous actuators that are made safe by design. This is how we envision that highly intelligent household robots capable of adapting their behavior to various tasks will eventually become a reality.


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