Creating robots capable of simulating human behaviors and seamlessly interacting with humans is a remarkable achievement in the world of robotics. Recently, students at CMU-Africa embarked on an exciting class project, the brainchild of Conrad Tucker who teaches Human Robotics and Cognition, a predominantly project-based course. In this project, students formed teams to explore the intricate dimensions of humanoid robots.
The winning team, composed of Hubert Apana (MS EAI '25), Pacome Simon Mbonimpa (MS EAI '24), Melinda Tatenda Mudzurandende (MSEAI '25), and Romerik Lokossou (MS EAI '25), embarked on their mission using robotics research from Columbia University as a guide.
Mudzurandende reflecting on their journey, notes, "We gained valuable insights from the foundational paper, which illuminated the techniques that brought their project to life. Our success underscores the significance of building upon existing research to expand the horizons of robotics."
The primary objective of the project was to craft a robot head capable of replicating a range of human head behaviors. This entailed the ability to move the head, nod, open and close the mouth, blink, and portray human facial expressions such as joy, anger, sadness, and surprise. What truly distinguished this winning team was their innovative thinking. In addition to fulfilling the project's fundamental requirements, they introduced voice commands to their robot, enabling it to respond adeptly to natural language. The robot could execute various actions simply by processing straightforward voice prompts. Furthermore, the team endowed the robot with the capacity to engage in real-time conversations with humans.
To achieve this, the team harnessed a chatbot based on ChatGPT, enabling the robot to comprehend and respond effectively to human speech. These supplementary functionalities not only secured their victory but also paved the way for the opportunity to showcase their work at the Can We Build Baymax? Robotic Conference, held in December in Texas, USA
Our objective is to equip our students with the skills and knowledge needed to create humanoid robots that can coexist harmoniously with humans, offering effective solutions for Africa and beyond.Conrad Tucker, Interim Director and Professor, CMU-Africa
Tucker articulates the relevance of artificial intelligence and machine learning, stating, “The field of robotics is progressing rapidly, and our objective is to equip our students with the skills and knowledge needed to create humanoid robots that can coexist harmoniously with humans, offering effective solutions for Africa and beyond.”
This class project, undertaken as part of their midterm examination, underscores CMU-Africa's unwavering commitment to nurturing innovation and hands-on learning.