« Poppy » is the first Open source and 3D printed humanoid robot ; it was designed by the INRIA Flower lab to study the body as an experimental variable that can be modified, tested, and tuned in a lab. This is an important innovation for technology and fundamental science, but also for social sciences, education, art…
Since the creation of the first electronic autonomous robots with complex behaviour in 1948 by William Grey Walter, robots have greatly contributed to research, and particularly to unravel the mysteries of human cognitive and morphological development and develop robot’s artificial cognitive and body intelligence. Indeed, we cannot exclude that in the future humanoid robots may be commonly used for medical or social uses. But to evolve and interact with our unpredictable world, robots will have to find the correct behaviour by themselves or through social interactions.
This is why the Flower lab team at INRIA (French) national institute for research in computer science and control) focuses its research on the cognitive and morphological mechanisms such as biped walking, curiosity, talking and life-long learning in robots and humans. Among other things, they are experimenting with robots to study the mechanisms by which babies progressively discover their bodies, learn how to walk and interact with their physical and social environment. The « baby-Robots » are endowed with algorithms of artificial curiosity that triggers mechanisms of self-exploration, interaction with peers, language and human-robot collaboration, but also locomotion.
Robots happen to be the perfect research tool to study biped walking and experiment novel morphologies as their body parts can be modified and replaced. Until now the moulds of the robots pieces were too expensive to play around, but 3D printing has opened a new set of opportunities that were immediately ceased by the French team led by Pierre-Yves Oudeyer. They designed and built Poppy, the first 3D printed robot and the first truly biologically inspired robot: even though is it only 84cm high, it reproduces the human proportions, and is endowed with an articulated spine that facilitates Poppy’s human-like movements.
Poppy gives the possibility to consider the body as an experimental variable and study different morphological designs of hip, feet, knees and their impact the robot dynamics. For instance, the French team noticed that when looking at the morphology of the femur, it appears to be inclined by six degrees. Consequently, they immediately changed the bended angle of the robot’s thigh and printed a new mechanical part to investigate the impact f this new thigh design on the balance and biped locomotion.
If Poppy is sometimes described as a little revolution in the world of robotics, it is also because it is completely open source source, hackable, and easy to reproduce. As the Poppy Forum says, the project is constantly in progress and it is possible for everyone to build its own Poppy, try new morphologies and contribute to improve the robot. But if the use of off-the-shelf components (motors and electronics) and limbs which can be printed with regular 3D printing services has cut the costs to a third compared to a similar commercial robot, you still need at least 7500euros to build Poppy entirely.
However, more and more research labs, fablabs and also classes have started to build parts of Poppy and experiment with them: what happens if you print and add 2 arms to Poppy ? What happens if you add wings? And because Poppy is also is also endowed with various motors, cameras and sensors to interact with the exterior world, the possibilities are endless! As Pierre-Yves Oudeyer explains: “Poppy opens a lot of stimulating opportunities in the world of education, for the integrated and interdisciplinary learning of mechanics, 3D printing, electronics, computer science, artificial intelligence and design”.
You got it, if the day when will help an old lady cross the street or make a surgical operation hasn’t come yet, the innovation opens a new dimension in using humanoids robots as experimental tools to test theories on locomotion, physical and social interactions but also to better understand human beings, or simply experiment new artistic forms:
Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, the leader of the Flower team at INRIA was invited by the Club Innovation in Education to present Poppy at the Centre for National Research on the 22th of October 2014.