Meet Poppy, the 3-D printed robot set to inspire innovation in classrooms

Tuesday, 28 October, 2014
Written in cooperation with Inria, France European Research Council (ERC) grantee Dr Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, is today presenting the first complete open-source 3D printed humanoid robot, called “Poppy” (@poppy_project). Poppy is a robot that anybody can build – its body is 3D printed and its behaviour programmed by the user.

However, it is not just a tool for scientists and computer “geeks” – the team of developers aims to use the robot as part of vocational training in schools, giving students the opportunity to experiment and program 3D printed robots with various characteristics.

Poppy was developed in France by Inria's Flowers team, which creates computer and robotic models as tools for understanding developmental processes in humans. Dr Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, who holds an ERC Starting Grant in Computer Science and Informatics, comments: “The advances offered by 3D printing have already revolutionised design and industry. However, only very little has been done to explore the benefits of 3D printing and its interaction with computer science in classrooms. With our Poppy platform, we are now offering schools and teachers an adequate tool to cultivate the creativity of students studying in fields such as mechanics, computer sciences, electronics and 3D printing”.

Build your own robot

Poppy's body is 3D printed and its behaviour determined with freely available software, meaning users can design body parts quickly and easily, and program their robot's behaviour themselves. Dr Oudeyer clarifies: “Both hardware and software are open source. There is not one single Poppy humanoid robot but as many as there are users. This makes it very attractive as it has grown from a purely technological tool to a real social platform”.

Accessible hardware and software make it easy for users to experiment with building their own robots for the first time. Poppy is now also compatible with the Arduino platform, which allows the robot to interface with other electronic devices, including smart clothing, lights, sensors and musical instruments.

Do It Yourself in schools

Dr Oudeyer, who is a Research Director at Inria, plans to extend use of this technology beyond research labs, to the educational sector in particular. Commenting on the Poppy initiative, EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said: "This is a great offshoot of an ERC project: a low-cost platform that could foster a more interactive and inspiring learning environment, allowing students to connect with research and design."

The Poppy platform has come about thanks to the ERC-funded “Explorers” project, in which Dr Oudeyer studies the mechanisms of learning and development using robots. “Our hypothesis is that the body is an essential variable in the acquisition of motor and social skills in humans. To study this theory, we needed to create a platform allowing fast experimentation of new robot morphologies. This led to the Poppy platform”.

Talking about the benefits of his ERC-funded research, Dr Oudeyer highlights: “My ERC grant was essential in developing problem-solving and critical thinking ability in robotics. I would now be glad if students who need more education in computer science, coding and design, could train using Poppy and perhaps, later, be able to find a job in the robotics sector”.

Gathering across frontiers

Poppy will also allow users to share their ideas and results in a very open and collaborative way through a dedicated web platform - gathering people across the frontiers of school, art, science and industry.

Dr Oudeyer’s team has already used Poppy in other fields, including the arts. In an ongoing artist residence programme entitled “Etres et Numériques”, the team worked with a dancer and a visual artist to explore the emotions and perceptions of body gestures and movements using the robot (see more here). They expect to extend these experiments to other artistic performances.

In his recent TEDxCannes talk, Dr Oudeyer explained how open-source baby robots can help scientists, and society at large, better understand the human mysteries of learning, curiosity and language acquisition.

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