November 20, 2014      

STMicroelectronics, at this week’s Embedded Technology 2014 show, trotted out the latest thing in robotics: an Italian humanoid called iCub, loaded with STs, sensors, and microcontrollers.

Japan’s love affair with robots is well-known. So, predictably, Japanese attendees here are gushing over this little Italian — about as big as a four-year-old child (roughly 3’4”, 55 pounds) — which they praise as smart, sophisticated, and gentle.

Capable of seeing, hearing, and touching, the iCub is designed to maintain natural interaction with people and learn from humans. Using clues it gathered from its sensors, the iCub not only identifies objects but also learns words associated with them. Further, it learns what and how to do things — such gently touching, holding, and manipulating an object, or using a tool to reach an object if necessary.

Accompanied by four Italian researchers, ST brought the iCub to Yokohama from Genoa, where it was born at the Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) as part of an EU project.

Julien Jenvrin, the doctor responsible for robotics, brain & cognitive sciences at IIT, told EE Times, “The beauty of the iCub is that it’s an open-source robot.” He said, Think of the iCub as a smartphone. Researchers and developers from all over the world download a simulator, and keep developing new apps — helping the iCub learn new skills.” The iCub has now been adopted by more than 20 laboratories worldwide.

The humanoid robot — which appears to speak English politely — is equipped with 53 motors to move its 76 joints, which are used to gracefully move its head and body.

In addition to image sensors for vision and microphones for sound, the iCub has inertia sensors to reproduce the sense of balance. Its tactile (an artificial skin) and strength sensors measure interaction with the environment. Jenvrin said, “iCub was designed to approach and interact with humans and the environment gently.”

According to Jenvrin, the iCub — in its early development — used a CAN bus to drive motors inside its body. Now it runs IP protocol over the Ethernet.

Components integrated in the iCub include: ST’s ARM Cortex-M4 core-based 32-bit microcontroller (10 units), ST’s three-axis digital output gyroscope MEMS sensor (10 units), ST’s ultra-low power high performance 3-axis digital accelerometer MEMS motion sensor (50 units) and Intel’s Pentium duo for data acquisition and synchronization.

The software running on board is Debian Linux.

A spokeswoman at ST said, “To demonstrate the ability of our chips especially in embedded systems isn’t always easy. We are confident that the iCub is sophisticated enough to impress the Japanese audience.”

Indeed, iCub is robotic, cute, Italian, and the Japanese are in love.

iCub is asked to find a stuffed octopus

IIT researcher guides iCub to touch the octopus

Now, iCub learned to find the octopus and touches it by itself

When asked, iCub gently picks up the octopus