School of
Information Technology and Electrical Engineering

Robot species that evolve a common language

6 May 2013

Researchers at the University of Queensland have used robots to challenge the traditional assumption that shared language is grounded in shared biology.

The research that will be presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering  International Conference on Robotics and Automation (IEEE ICRA) focuses on how robots with different bodies and minds can invent shared languages.

Team leader, Professor Janet Wiles said that the robots – called Lingodroids – use conversations to invent their own words for space and time, and base the meanings of the words on shared experiences.

“Even with such simple skills, Lingodroid spatial languages are generative, enabling the robots to invent names for places they have only experienced separately, and to name places they cannot physically reach,” Professor Wiles said.

“Over the past few years, studies at UQ have shown how Lingodroids can learn words for time and space.

“This has then raised questions about how the social skills of robots of the future can be extended to match the diverse language abilities of human companions.”

First author and UQ PhD student, Scott Heath said the paper ‘Communication between Lingodroids with different cognitive capabilities’ extends previous robot language research by using two different types of robots, one with a laser-based sensor and one with a camera.

“Previous studies have shown how Lingodroids learn terms for space and time, connecting their personal maps of the world to a publically shared language,” Mr Heath said.

“However, in previous studies the Lingodroids shared the same body and mind, identical in all respects from sensors to mapping systems.

“In this paper we wanted to see what happened when Lingodroids with fundamentally different sensors and spatial representations learn a shared language.”

The IEEE ICRA conference is held annually and allows for the networking of experts in the field of robotics and automation on an international scale. The paper is being presented at ICRA in Germany this week by Dr David Ball, who designed the two robots used in the studies and Dr Ruth Schulz, who developed the original Lingodroids spatial language learners.

Reference: Heath S., Ball D., Schulz R., and Wiles J., Communication between Lingodroids with different cognitive capabilities, Proceedings of the 2013 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, Karlsruhe, May 6 - 10, 2013.

Scott Heath (
Professor Janet Wiles (