Robot learns brush strokes from teacher, then replicates

Researchers hope the robot could be used to teach students complex tasks

Researchers at Japan's Keio University have developed a robot that can learn complex hand tasks such as calligraphy.

The robot, on show at this week's Ceatec exhibition near Tokyo, consists of two pairs of arms, each of which come out to grip an object.

(See video of the robot in action on YouTube.)

In a demonstration, the lower set of arms held a brush, which is traditionally used in Japan for calligraphy. The brush was at table level and sitting just above an ink reservoir. The upper set of arms held the body of a pen, but this was in mid-air.

The robot is wired so that whatever is done with the pen body on the upper set of arms is mimicked by the brush on the lower set of arms.

So when the researcher took hold of the pen body and jabbed it a couple of times it had the effect of dipping the brush in ink. He then swung the pen to the left and performed the motions that would see the lower brush write out a large Chinese character for "tree" on a piece of paper.

As this was happening, the sequence was being recorded in a computer. A few moments later, the robot was commanded to repeat the action it had just learned and this time the upper pen didn't need to be touched.

The robot at Ceatec is based on a system that was first developed four years ago, said Shunsuke Yajima, a researcher at Keio, which is one of Japan's top universities.

He said they are considering it for learning applications when the teacher isn't always available. In theory, because the robot can faithfully copy an act taught to it, it could be used to teach calligraphy or, perhaps with a modification, other crafts that require practice and manipulation of hand tools.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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