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ROBOTics for Development Of Cognition

Final Report Summary - ROBOT-DOC (ROBOTics for Development Of Cognition)

The ROBOT-DOC Initial Training Network led to the establishment of the leading European doctoral training institute, called “ROBOT-DOC Collegium”, for postgraduate training and research in cognitive developmental robotics using humanoid platforms. Developmental robotics, also known as epigenetic robotics, is an innovative approach to the design of robots that takes direct inspiration from developmental mechanisms and phenomena studied in children, and uses these to overcome current limitations in robot design. Given the highly interdisciplinary nature of developmental robotics, the network’s aim was to provide multi-methodological research training opportunities in the core disciplines involved in developmental robotics, namely cognitive robotics, robotics, computer science, cognitive science, developmental psychology and neuroscience.
The main ITN objectives were: (i) To set up an open multi-national doctoral training Collegium for the interdisciplinary training on developmental cognitive robotics; (ii) To train doctoral students and early-career postdoctoral fellows for the development of domain-specific research knowledge and skills; (iii) To allow early-stage researchers to acquire a set of multi-methodological skills in humanoid robotics, cognitive science, developmental sciences as well as behavioural and computational neuroscience, using integrated pedagogical approaches; (iv) To provide hands-on experience on robotics research through experiments with the European open-source iCub robot and other platforms; (v) To support Fellows, through an individual coaching programme and skill plan, to develop complementary transferrable skills for R&D careers in academia and industry.
The Collegium was centred around a series of “training nodes”, each providing training in specific research areas.
ROBOT-DOC provided a unique European doctoral training platform for the development of doctoral research skills based on a humanoid platform, in particular through experiments on the robot iCub, as well as other robots (e.g. ASIMO, Nao, EcceRobot). The training of early stage doctoral students and researchers was based on the novel integration of various pedagogical approaches such as structured training (e.g. lectures, seminars, progress reports), student-centre learning (e.g. on-line resources, skills self-auditing, individual tutoring) and experiential learning (experiments with the iCub robot, organisation of workshops).
The work during the 4-year project duration resulted in significant achievements in both the interdisciplinary training of the Fellows, and in scientific advances in developmental robotics.
Thirteen ESR Fellows and five ER researchers were hired during the first 4 years to participate to the whole ROBOT-DOC training programme. The fellows have participated in the general network meetings, called “training milestones”, namely the Cognitive Robotics Research Methods Workshop (March 2010), the Project Proposal Workshop (October 2010), the Spring School on Interdisciplinary Methods for Cognitive Robotics (May 2011),the PhD Transfer Workshop (September 2011), the Entrepreneurship Workshop (March 2012), the Postgraduate Conference on Robotics and Development of Cognition (September 2012), the ROBOTDOC/POETICON++ Spring School on Developmental Robotics and Cognitive Bootstrapping, (March 2013) and the International Conference on Development of Cognition, Osaka (August 2013). In addition to the RobotDoc training meetings, and the Fellows’ own institutions’ doctoral training courses, most have participated in summer schools such as the VVV-iCub Summer School, the ESOS Marie Curie training workshop, the Cognitive Science and Machine Learning Summer School, the EMBODYi Projects Summer School, the Impedance Control Summer School, the Cognitive Science Summer School, the Social Signal Processing Summer School, the CITEC Summer School and the CINACS International Summer School. Fellows were also engaged in secondments, each having visited at least another node of the network and other international laboratories.
All fellows were supported by an interdisciplinary supervisory team from at least two nodes of the network. Each fellow followed an Individual Skills Training Plan, with an initial assessment of the baseline level of academic and transferrable skills and yearly review of the training progress. In addition, Fellows have had access to individual coaching session, as one-to-one and group session during project meeting, and as requested through skype meeting or on-site visits.
To achieve the objective of making the RobotDoc collegium an open network, we have established the “ROBOTDOC Associate Fellows” group. This is constituted by the external researchers that have taken part in the training events, and currently includes 45 associate fellows from both EU and overseas countries (e.g. Brazil and Taiwan). Associate Fellows were encouraged to participate in the training events and also invited to the open network conferences and summer school (also through additional funding from the EUCogII Action Network).
From a scientific point of view, the work of the Fellows has already resulted in the publication and presentation of their research results in many international conferences. The staff and fellows have published over 30 articles in international journals, 40 papers in conference proceedings, and further 30 conference posters. Several of these papers represent the contribution of the collaboration of Fellows from different nodes of the network. One example of the close integration of the work of interdisciplinary teams within the ROBOT-DOC nodes is the research on the computational modelling of infant data between the Uppsala Babylab and the robotics team at the Italian Institute of Technology. This resulted in the proposition of a novel hypothesis that the observed sensitivity of human neonates to eye contact may be mediated in part by sensor distribution and morphological principles. Other example are represented by the collaborations between the research teams from Plymouth and Bielefeld on several project research tasks such as motoric and contextual information in determining attention behaviours and on alignment between robots and human.
Beyond the training and scientific results, the ROBOT-DOC Fellows have also been involved in various dissemination activities outside the scientific community, including radio interviews (Radio Lola Zurich, and Jedynka Polskie radio, the biggest polish national radio station), invited talks, and featured article in national and local newspaper (e.g. Sole 24 Ore, the main financial newspaper in Italy). Finally, further recognition of the Fellows’ achievements has been the award of prizes at the main scientific conferences in the field, such as for the best poster competition at FET’11 Budapest, the best student paper at the IEEE ICDL-EpiRob Conference in Frankfurt, and the best poster award at the Computational Motor Control Workshop in Israel.