A robot that bakes pancakes

Can robots bake pancakes? As far as cognitive psychologist Bernhard Hommel is concerned, yes. Once they are equipped with a cognitive control system, robots can become increasingly smarter through interaction with internet. And that’s where the future lies. Robotics projects in seven European countries are collaborating in this interdisciplinary project, with a European subsidy of € 7.2 million.

There is more to a robot than ICT

A robot baking a pancake with web instruction from wikihow.com

A robot baking a pancake with web instruction from wikihow.com

Robots are not only the domain of ICT experts. Cognitive psychology is also working on the ‘humanoid’ robot, a machine that looks pretty human from the waist up, and has wheels for legs. These ‘human’ robots are equipped with a cognitive control system that is based on Hommel’s sensorimotor theory of human cognition.

Web recipe

This kind of cognitive control system makes it possible for robots to translate information that is available on internet into manipulations. Examples are web instructions, online dictionaries and encyclopaedias. A household robot can, for instance, learn to cook simple dishes on the basis of web recipes.

Sensorimotor theory of human cognition
Recognition and sensorimotor drive are inextricably connected with one another. This is called ‘affordance’. What you see, hear or feel immediately tells you what you are in the process of doing. This also works the other way around. When performing an action, everything is tuned so that your perception is optimal. In this way, action and processing inform and structure one another. Hommel: ‘We equip the robots with a cognitive system on the basis of ‘affordance’. The robot’s eye records many things, and the question then is how you can identify the relevant bits of information.’
Robots are becoming increasingly more human

Robots in the healthcare sector

Bernhard Hommel

Bernhard Hommel

The cognitive control system not only makes robots more clever, it also allows them to successfully deal with new challenges. And they are nicer and more pleasant to work with, which in turn increases the acceptance of household robots. Hommel: ‘What would you rather have in your house: a kind of industrial one-armed robot, or one that looks at you and responds to you?’ According to Hommel, it is very important that these kinds of robots become acceptable for people. This is an important step in the continuous development of ‘humanoid’ robots. Acceptance contributes to the social and industrial appreciation of scientific knowledge about cognition. It also makes it more realistic to use robots in the healthcare sector and for supporting elderly people.

'Robots are already more social now'

Hommel: ‘Some robots are already behaving in more social and human ways than many people.’

‘Large-scale integrating project’ subsidy

Prof. Bernhard Hommel has received a subsidy of € 7.2 million from the European Commission for this interdisciplinary project, that is a collaboration with six robotics labs from:

  • Belgium

  • Germany

  • France

  • Greece

  • Sweden

  • Switzerland

and the robotics company Aldebaran Robotics.

Title: 'Web-enabled and Experience-based Cognitive Robots that Learn Complex Everyday Manipulation'



Research Area

‘The brain itself is multidisciplinary, and should therefore be studied as such’
Brain function and dysfunction over the lifespan

Brain and cognition


Last Modified: 26-03-2012