The fruitful and long-standing collaboration between Plymouth University’s Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems and Softbank Robotics Europe’s AI-Lab (formerly Aldebaran Robotics) has recently led to the establishment of a joint industry-academia doctoral school.

The doctoral school, APRIL: Applications of Personal Robotics via Interaction and Learning is funded by the European Union, as part of the European Industrial Doctorate programme of the H2020 Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions.

APRIL focuses on the design of new robotics and machine learning systems in three application areas identified as key potential markets for the future generation of AI and robotics applications:

• Companion robots for elderly and social and health care

• Assistive robots for children with disabilities

• Edutainment robots for school and education

The field of developmental robotics is one of the most promising approaches to providing such behaviours. Living with its user will enable the robot to learn to understand his or her needs and style of interaction. The robot’s development of a capability for understanding abstraction and being able to reason on it will further result in a higher level of communication and interaction with its user.

“The general aim of personal robotics is to design companion robots that can live and interact with human users in a very intuitive way. This requires that a robot develops a comprehensive understanding of human beings and appropriately adapts its behaviour to the context. More specifically, adaptive behaviour and learning are critical to accommodate unknown and changing environments, tasks and users.”

A key feature of the European Industrial Doctorate is that each PhD student will spend half their PhD (18 months) at Plymouth University, and the remaining 18 months in the industrial partner Softbank Robotics Europe in Paris. This allows them to have direct experience of both academic research and industry R&D environments.

In addition, the cross-sectorial Plymouth-Softbank partnership is complemented by a set of six associate partners representing further international universities (Berlin Humboldt University in Germany and Osaka University in Japan), offering industry secondments in SMEs (MetraLabs GmbH) and multinationals (SONY Computer Science Lab in Tokyo), as well as with robotics application users (San Raffaele Hospital Milan and DomoCasa Experimental Lab in Pisa).

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The university’s partnership with Softbank Robotics Europe (maker of the well-known Nao and Pepper robots) is complemented by other strategic collaborations with the robotics and AI industrial and user sectors.

Plymouth University recently joined Honda’s European Graduate Network with a new PhD project on non-verbal communication with robots (funded by Honda Robotics Institute in Offenbach, Germany) and has a project on trust in human-robot interaction with the US Air Force Lab.

By Professor Angelo Cangelosi, Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems, Plymouth University


© Images: Plymouth University