An 'autobiographical memory' developed for space-faring robots could help pass knowledge between successive International Space Station crews.
The station's only permanent member is the Robonaut 2 humanoid robot, developed as a joint project by Nasa and DARPA to work alongside astronauts, which was delivered in February 2011 with the aim of helping the astronauts with tasks requiring dexterity.
Now a team of French researchers from the Institut Cellule Souche et Cerveau (Inserm) has developed a new memory system that could allow station members to teach the robot skills that it could then pass on to new crews when they change every six months.
In lab tests, the researchers demonstrated how a human could teach the Nao humanoid robot, manufactured by Aldebaran, either via physical demonstration by putting the robot's limbs in the correct position, visual imitation through Microsoft's Kinect system, or voice command.
Individual actions can be combined into procedures and stored in the robot's autobiographical memory, which makes it possible to date and locate memories and determine who was present during the event, enabling the robot to reproduce them for other humans when required.
To test their system the scientists used the scenario of an electronic card getting damaged, with the Nao playing the role of the scientist's assistant by following his directions, bringing or holding parts of the card during repair.
Their results showed that the robot's memory system allowed it to use a video to show previous attempts to repair the card to a new member of the crew, as well as responding to questions regarding the previous event, while simultaneously helping with the new repair.
If a slightly different failure takes place, the robot could share its expertise on failures of this type while also recording the steps needed to resolve this new problem. It could then transfer them to the scientists in the next crew.Researchers are now hoping to test their Nao robot in the real conditions of space operations, with zero gravity. They would also like to develop another area of application, namely assisting the elderly, with the robot this time playing the role of a personal memory aid.Results of the project were presented at the 24th International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication in Kobe, Japan.