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UKE Scientists To Head New EU Brain Research Project

Researchers team up with international fellows to improve the human interaction with robots.

Many people understand each other without verbal exchange – they communicate with gestures or eye contact. To understand basic social perception phenomena and to develop behavioral programs for robots is thus the goal of a new brain research programme headed by scientists from the UKE University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf . Called “Socialising Sensori-motor contingencies”, in short: socSMCs runs, the project will be running for four years and will be funded by the European Union under the “Horizon 2020” programme with a total of 3.8 million euro. More than 900,000 euro will be allocated to research in Hamburg.

The Vision: A Natural Interaction With Robots

“We want people to be able to interact in a more natural way with robots than today”, says Prof Dr Andreas K. Engel, Director of the Institute of Neurophysiology and Pathophysiology at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) and co-ordinator of the EU research project. A major goal of the UKE researchers is thus to make future robots more sensitive to human movements and gestures, and enable them to anticipate movements and reactions of their counterparts. “Imagine moving furniture on a narrow staircase without hitting the walls”, says Prof Angel. “Two people will succeed in doing it silently, with the right communication and co-ordination of movements happening all by itself. This silent communication we’d like to achieve also when communicating with robots.”

How Do Humans Synchronise Their Actions Without Words?

To understand man’s nonverbal communication, the Hamburg scientists will invite teams of test persons to play a game of skills in silence, and simultaneously measure their brain activity. The data obtained will be used to develop and advance a basic concept of social interaction, and to invest its suitability to communicate with artificial systems such as robots. In succeed, the Hamburg scientists will also closely focus on people suffering from autism. “We suspect that in people with autism the ability to synchronise with other people is impaired”, says Prof. Angel.The scientists thus hope that these differences will provide vital clues for further research.

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To Advance Basic Research: The :EU Project "Horizont 2020"

To bring“socSMCs” to Hamburg, the UKE scientists had to win against competitor. The project is part of the EU’s Research Framework Programme “Horizon 2020”, which promotes unconventional approaches in basic research on selected topics and trends.Including the project of the Hamburg neuroscientists, the funding area “FET Proactive” is targeting at defining promising results of basic research and make them overcome scientific or technological obstacles before and thus make them ready and interesting for general industrial research. In the Hamburg project, eight research groups from four countries are being involved.

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