The IURO (short for Interactive Urban Robot) is a new humanoid service robot built by Accrea Engineering, a spin-off of the Technical University of Munich (TUM). Researchers at TUM as well as ETH Zurich and the University of Salzburg are collaborating on an EU-funded research project that seeks to teach robots directions—the human way.

IURO has undergone some changes since we saw it late last year. It now possesses an expressive head with moving eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, lips, lower jaw, and even ears, actuated by a total of 21 servo motors. The goal is to make it approachable and understandable to the general public, and having an expressive face helps.

It recognizes people and its surroundings with stereo cameras (located in the holes in its forehead) and has better depth perception thanks to a Kinect sensor. Its arms are just for show, it has a built-in touch screen interface, and it moves on wheels (using laser range finders to prevent bumping into stuff).

The fact its makers are sending IURO out into the real world without it knowing where to go is what makes the project unique. The idea is to have the robot approach people on the street and ask them for directions to a specific landmark. Then, using what it is told, it must reach its destination. To do so, it must be able to visually recognize and track people while interacting with them through speech synthesis and recognition. If a person gives it directions (which will likely be somewhat vague by robot standards), IURO will have to translate their words and gestures into navigational plans. And that's a tall order for just about any robot.

Below, you can watch a brief overview of the project in the following interview from the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems 2012 conference last week.

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