Home Bots & Brains ‘Intelligent robots of the future will move and learn with us’

‘Intelligent robots of the future will move and learn with us’

by Pieter Werner

IntelliMan, a new Horizon Europe research project coordinated by the University of Bologna, researches a world in which robots will be guided by artificial intelligence: they will move with us and interact with the environment, learning step by step how to adapt to the different circumstances in which they will operate.

The project, funded by the European Commission with € 4.5 million, involves thirteen partners from six European countries brought together by a common vision: to develop intelligent robots with advanced learning capabilities. This challenge aims to realise systems that can ‘help out’ in hospitals, elderly care facilities, factories, restaurants, the service sector, and even in individual households.

“With IntelliMan, we focus on the development of robots that can learn in a targeted, efficient and effective manner, while also ensuring high safety standards,” says Gianluca Palli, full professor at the Department of Electrical, Electronic, and Information Engineering “Guglielmo Marconi” (DEI) at the University of Bologna as well as IntelliMan’s project coordinator. “The robotic system we will design will learn the skills needed to interact with people, objects and the surrounding environment. By using AI algorithms, it will autonomously understand the properties and features of objects in everyday life and in industrial environments.”

Besides coordinating and monitoring the integration of technologies in the overall project activities, the University of Bologna will specifically leverage its extensive expertise on robotics and AI to develop innovative solutions in the field of prosthetics, in collaboration with the INAIL (National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work) Prosthesis Centre. The University of Bologna will also work on manipulation systems for industrial production in collaboration with ELVEZ, a manufacturer of specialised products for the automotive, electrical, and mechanical engineering industries.

“Robotic manipulators and robotic hands able to interact with their surroundings are one step away from becoming reality. Yet the key issue is to understand how these systems can develop new skills,” says Palli, “and interact with objects regardless of their composition, size and shape, using artificial intelligence techniques. By interacting with people and the environment, these systems will have to acquire new knowledge, i.e. be able to cope with unexpected tasks that have not been pre-programmed.”

Roberto Meattini – a member of the group of DEI researchers at the University of Bologna involved in the IntelliMan project – continues: “The next generation of robotic handling systems must be able to operate both autonomously and in cooperation with human users thanks to advanced human-robot interfaces.”

The potential fields of application are diverse and include industrial production, logistics, service robotics and wearable devices such as exoskeletons and prostheses. Scholars will focus on the challenges of handling and positioning deformable objects, which may involve upper limb prostheses in daily tasks in the kitchen, wiring operations in the automotive industry and handling fresh food in supermarket logistics. They will do so with a focus on the safety requirements and the best strategies to ensure a ‘relationship of trust’ between humans and robots.

The European Union is supporting the IntelliMan project with € 4.5 million as part of the European framework programme for research and innovation ‘Horizon Europe’. The consortium is coordinated by the University of Bologna and consists of 13 internationally recognised academic and industrial partners from six European countries (Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom). Together, they combine expertise in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, information and communication technologies, social sciences, humanities and economics.

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