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Philippe Bidaud: an intelligent mix of robotics and humanity

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Philippe Bidaud: for an intelligent mix of robotics and humanity


Philippe Bidaud is director of the Institute of Intelligent Systems and RoboticsNouvelle fenêtre (ISIR). The scientists in his laboratory work principally on emerging applications of robotics and intelligent systems in the fields of biology, neuroscience and cognitive science.



Philippe Bidaud

What is the ISIR?

It is a multi-disciplinary research body associated to the CNRS Institute of Information and Engineering Science and Technology. The ISIR brings together complementary skills from various different fields: engineering, computer science and information technology, neuroscience, etc., to cover the modeling and simulation of robotic systems and of complex interactions, robust commands for these systems, teleoperation and identification. We also work on systems of multimodal perception – sight, touch and speech – and of associated signal processing, on artificial intelligence for behavioral learning, and on the modeling of movement and perception in neuroscience.


What are its research aims?

We work to increase the interactive capabilities and autonomy of robotic systems. In particular, we are developing devices which combine these two dimensions for applications such as tele/micromanipulation. Micromanipulation is useful in biology and microelectronics, as is allows analysis of imperceptible objects or of reactions which are intangible to human senses. To understand how two macromolecules hold together or how a cell attaches to a receptor, scientists must be able to hold and manipulate these minuscule objects in space in a controlled manner, with nanometric precision!

So, robotics goes from the cellular scale to the human scale?

Yes, we are engaged on projects which bring together robotics and life at every level. We have created systems to assist with surgical procedures, robotic surveillance and home help devices for the elderly or disabled, visual substitution systems… We are also researching the locomotion, perception and autonomy of robotic systems, with the aim of developing robotic means of scientific exploration in difficult or complex environments. This includes not only planetary exploration, on Mars for example, but sample-taking on volcanoes, access to environments made unstable by cataclysms, etc.

Which line of research do you focus on personally?

Human beings’ motor control results from all we have learnt, little by little, about the best way of building muscle-skeleton synergies which help us master our body language. It is possible to reproduce this learning in our robots. In the past they were programmed deterministically, but now we try to transpose our most advanced understanding of neuronal structures to robotics by integrating motor control learning techniques. I think that these aspects of our research are of great scientific importance.

Is it likely that robots will develop complete autonomy, like in science-fiction films?

These learning techniques are liable to allow a robot to enrich its knowledge of its environment and if its own person, so to speak. That will substantially modify its behavior and give it the autonomy to evolve. We are already capable of teaching robots to speak and develop emotions! Evolutionist robotics is at present a veritable subject of research, but obviously it implies significant ethical questions.

Are robotics and artificial intelligence only good for miming human complexity?

No, our research does not aim simply to produce more and more sophisticated machines. Models which allow us to better understand how a gesture is chosen, or how hand-eye coordination works, can help objectify a great number of human disorders and deficits. Our research in life sciences and medicine in a broad sense are much more profitable than their transpositions to mechatronic artifacts. Our objective is not to constitute a zoo of machines each more exotic than the last! It is on the fundamental knowledge of human functions that our contributions have the most impact.

Interview by Emmanuelle Manck