Vanderbilt University


ISAC Group



Although robots seem to possess fantastic skills in science fiction movies, it would surprise many people to learn howmuch still needs to be done to endow today' s service robots with the ability to do relatively simple tasks.  One of the most challenging problems is that of giving the robot an understanding of how to interact with human beings.  The interaction between two people is natural since they understand each other, in contrast to the interaction between a robot and a person. One research focus of the Center for intelligent Systems'  laboratories is on the development of improved human-robot interaction (HRI) techniques, both for sophisticated humanoid robots as well as for mobile robots.

In the case of a humanoid robot, it is desirable to use some natural communication means such as voice or gesture recognition systems. The humanoid should imitate a human being in some ways. For example, it should have "ears" to localize a person speaking around the robot, and it should even be able to understand, at some level, what the person is saying. It should also have "eyes" (vision system) for looking around and extracting features from its environment, as people do. In addition, the robot should be able to track someone as they move around, speak, and make other noises. The robot should not be restricted to human-like capabilities. It may have some sensing abilities that humans do not. For example, it is not possible for a person, with their eyes closed, to detect and track another moving person when that person does not make any noise. However, a robot equipped with an infrared sensor array can sense human movement and localize the person, even in a darkened room.

Humanoid Robotic Research

The Cognitive Robotics Lab (CRL) (See is the home for our humanoid robot, ISAC (Intelligent Soft-Arm Control), which was designed and built within the lab, initially as a robotic aid to the physically-challenged. Although it can still perform that function, our more recent research emphasis has been on general problems of human-robot interaction.  ISAC has two 6-degree-of-freedom arms actuated by pneumatic McKibben Artificial Muscles. These were manufactured by Bridgestone, who called them " SoftArms" . ISAC has anthropomorphic, hand-like end effectors, built in-house. To complete the arm-hand systems, ISAC has 6-axis force-torque sensors at each wrist, proximity sensors on the palms, and rudimentary touch sensors on each finger. ISAC employs color, stereo, active vision with pan, tilt, and verge, sonic localization, infrared motion detection, and speech I/O. Although its sensory-motor suite is not nearly as rich as those of a vertebrate animal, the diversity of its sensory modalities coupled with its 18 degrees of freedom in motion have enabled us to equip ISAC with a number of complex behaviors.


Human-Humanoid Interaction (HHI) Framework

Supporting Technologies