The Head Turning Modulation system: an active multimodal paradigm for intrinsically motivated exploration of unknown environments

Overall architecture of the HTM system


Over the last twenty years, a significant part of the research in exploratory robotics partially switches from looking for the most efficient way of exploring an unknown environment to finding what could motivate a robot to autonomously explore it. Moreover, a growing literature focuses not only on the topological description of a space (dimensions, obstacles, usable paths, etc.) but rather on more semantic components, such as multimodal objects present in it. In the search of designing agents that behave autonomously by embedding life-long learning abilities, the inclusion of mechanisms of attention is of importance. Indeed, be it endogenous or exogenous, attention constitutes a form of intrinsic motivation for it can trigger motor command towards specific stimuli, thus leading to an exploration of the space. The Head Turning Modulation model presented in this paper is composed of two modules providing a robot with two different forms of intrinsic motivations leading to triggering head movements towards audiovisual sources appearing in unknown environments. First, the Dynamic Weighting module implements a motivation by the concept of Congruence, a concept defined as an adaptive form of semantic saliency specific for each explored environment. Then, the Multimodal Fusion & Inference module implements a motivation by the reduction of Uncertainty through a self-supervised online learning algorithm that can autonomously determine local consistencies. One of the novelty of the proposed model is to solely rely on semantic inputs (namely audio and visual labels the sources belong to), in opposition to the traditional analysis of the low-level characteristics of the perceived data. Another contribution is found in the way the exploration is exploited to actively learn the relationship between the visual and auditory modalities. Importantly, the robot–endowed with binocular vision, binaural audition and a rotating head–does not have access to prior information about the different environments it will explore. Consequently, it will have to learn in real-time what audiovisual objects are of ‘importance’ in order to rotate its head towards them. Results presented in this paper have been obtained in simulated environments as long as with a real robot in realistic experimental conditions.

in Frontiers in Neurorobotics