An important milestone for the Human Brain Project has been reached: as of 30th March, the prototypes of the six information and communications technology (ICT) platforms are set for release. The neurorobotics platform, led by the Technical University of Munich (TUM), gives scientists the chance to apply brain models to various different robots and thus conduct their own experiments.
To create a computer simulation of the human brain - in simple terms, this is the aim of the Human Brain Project (HBP). The HBP, which is supported by the EU over a 10-year period, is one of the two large Future and Emerging Technologies flagship projects.
The researchers pursue four sub-goals during the project:
• collate all existing data about the functioning of the brain;
• strengthen the theoretical brain research;
• develop applications, for example, in the areas of medicine or computer technology; and
• develop several so-called information and communications technology (ICT) platforms.
The technology platforms are used by the scientists as tools for analyses, developments and simulations. For example, atlases of the brain are provided or virtual behavioural experiments can be conducted. As of 30th March, the prototypes of the platforms will also be available to researchers who are not members of the HBP consortium.
Led by Prof. Alois Knoll, the TUM coordinates the creation of the platform for neurorobotics. "We expect robots to work more closely with humans in the future, in the manufacturing or care sectors, for example", explains Knoll. "For this to work, robots must be able to perceive their environment similar to how a human can".
"This means that we have to know how perception works in the brain. During the HBP, we will equip robots with different brain models in computer simulations and test their behaviour."
Therefore, the initial aim of the ICT platform for neurorobotics is to provide robot simulations that are linked to brain models. In addition, virtual environments are designed, in which the behaviour of these robots is examined.
The prototype of this platform can now be accessed by all scientists via a central web portal. Various different virtual robots, to which a neuronal network model can be applied, are available in a type of library. For example, there is a virtual mouse, which can differentiate colours among other things.
"Husky", on the other hand, is an off-road vehicle that drives on the simulated surface. You can even select a humanoid robot. Users of the platform have the opportunity to conduct their own experiments or they can access the results of other experiments, too.
The developers of the platform would like to be in direct contact with the users and enhance the software step by step based on their feedback.
On the other hand, the users can perform tests to see how realistic their own models are. "We hope to learn how we can make robots intelligent from the simulations and using our partners’ data", explains Dr. Florian Röhrbein, Scientific Coordinator of the Neurorobotics Subproject at the TUM.
The next project phase should also see the emergence of actual physical robot models that are programmed with a brain model. The basic idea behind this: robots work best with humans if they can perceive their environment similar to how a human can.
Based on this assumption, Knoll’s researchers had developed the so-called ECCEROBOT as early as the end of 2012. With ECCEROBOT, muscles, tendons and joints were replicated.
Over the course of the HBP, a new robot may be created along these lines with a brain that is anatomically similar to that of a human.