A humanoid robot baby has taught itself to shoot a bow and arrow, and all we can say is: Hide the kids and the pets. Assault rifles can't be too far off.
Petar Kormushev and his colleagues at the Italian Institute of Technology's Advanced Robotics department taught the little guy how to hold a bow and release the arrow. Then, using two algorithms and visual feedback from a camera, the bot learned to aim and shoot arrows, hitting the center of a target 11.5 feet away in only eight tries.
The robot behind the bow is iCub, an open-source baby bot developed in Europe to help researchers study child development and cognition. iCub stands 3.5 feet tall and has an articulated trunk, arms, and legs, as well as a ghostly white face with big round eyes that can follow moving objects, such as people fleeing from flying arrows.
For the archery experiment, researchers linked an iCub with 53 degrees of freedom to two algorithms that employ reinforcement learning. One, appropriately, is called ARCHER (Augmented Reward Chained Regression), and is optimized for tasks with an easily definable goal and measurable progress toward that goal. Both algorithms modulate and coordinate the motion of the robot's two hands, while an inverse kinematics controller determines the motion of the arms.
The image processor relies on color-based detection of the target and the arrow's tip to recognize where the arrow hits; it then sends that feedback to the ARCHER algorithm. A feather headdress makes the iCub look cute.
The scientists plan to present their research (PDF) at the Humanoids2010 conference in Nashville in December. While iCub does use arrows with suction cups, might we still suggest attendees wear arrow-proof suits?