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Baby robot to ‘learn’ how to talk

Academics will try to teach iCub

Academics in the UK are preparing to teach a ‘baby’ robot how to talk.

Their work could lead to the development of humanoid robots which learn, think and talk.

A consortium led by the University of Plymouth beat competition from 31 others to win a £4.7-million grant for the Italk – Integration and Transfer of Action and Language Knowledge in Robots – project.


The four-year project which begins next month – the first of its kind in the world – will see delivery of the 1 metre-high baby humanoid robot ‘iCub’ to the university, which is a world leader in cognitive robotics research.

Plymouth University’s partners in the project include the University of Hertfordshire and others from across Europe.

The Italk project aims to teach the robot to speak by employing the same methods used by parents to teach their children.

Language development

Plymouth university’s robotics experts will work with specialists in language development who have researched the ways parents teach their children to speak.

They will then conduct experiments in human and robot language interaction.

Typical experiments with the iCub robot will include activities such as inserting objects of various shapes into the corresponding holes in a box, serialising nested cups and stacking wooden blocks.

Name objects

Next, the iCub – which arrives in Plymouth next March – will be asked to name objects and actions so that it acquires basic phrases such as ‘robot puts stick on cube’.

The scientific and technological research developed during the project will have a significant impact on the future generation of interactive robotic systems within the next ten years and the leadership role of Europe in this area, said a University spokesman.

Angelo Cangelosi, Professor in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Plymouth, said: ‘In particular, the outcome of the research will define the scientific and technological requirements for the design of humanoid robots able to develop complex behavioural, thinking and communication skills through individual and social learning.’

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