Number Understanding Modelling in Behavioural Embodied Robotic Systems (NUMBERS)


Details of Grant Summary:

Cognitive Developmental Robotics envisions Artificial Intelligence agents that simulate child-like brains, which can be educated and develop their cognitive skills like children.

Within this framework, the objective of the NUMBERS project is to construct a novel artificial cognitive model of mathematical cognition by imitating human like learning approaches for developing number understanding. This will endow robots of the necessary capability for abstract and symbolic processing, which is required for improving their cognitive performance and their social interaction with human beings.

The objective will be achieved through a highly interdisciplinary research program that will take advantage of the interdisciplinary collaboration of leading academics at Plymouth University and Stanford University, USA, and the technical support of an industrial partner (NVIDIA Corporation).

The NUMBERS’ research activities will exploit the cutting-edge facilities offered by Sheffield Robotics, a joint initiative between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, which will host the project. Indeed, the model will be integrated with one of the most advanced child-like robotic platform (the “iCub”) and, therefore, validated through realistic experiments, resembling scientific experiments of mathematical cognition in children.

The validation of the novel model of the numerical cognition in interactive robotic experiments will constitute a proof of concept of the enhanced capabilities offered by a modular approach to bio-inspired artificial intelligence architectures. Furthermore, an optimised implementation for mobile devices with an embedded Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) will help to downsize space and power requirements for the computation, increasing application opportunities.

This foundational research will provide the methodological basis and cognitively plausible engineering principles for the next generation of socially interactive robots, mimicking advanced capabilities of the human intelligence for real understanding and interaction with the external world. Results will help the design of more efficient cognitive robotic systems capable of learning abstract symbolic number processing in a more flexible and ecological manner.

The human-like learning and interaction are characteristics that might allow people to more easily identify the desired social overture that the robot is making, or facilitate the transfer of skills learned in human-human interactions to human-robot encounters. This envisioned humanization will positively affect the acceptance of robots in social environments, as they will be perceived as less dangerous, increasing the socio-economic applications of future robots that can take on tasks once thought too delicate or uneconomical to automate. This is particularly relevant in the fields of social care, companionship, therapy, domestic assistance, entertainment, and education.


1.Di Nuovo, A., De La Cruz, V. M., & Cangelosi, A. (2014). Grounding fingers, words and numbers in a cognitive developmental robot. In IEEE Symposium on Computational Intelligence, Cognitive Algorithms, Mind, and Brain (CCMB), pp. 9-15. IEEE.

2.Di Nuovo A.; De La Cruz V.; Cangelosi A.; Di Nuovo S. (2014). The iCub learns numbers: An embodied cognition study, Proc. of the International Joint Conference on Neural Networks (IJCNN 2014), pp.1- 8, In:WCCI 2014 IEEE World Congress on Computational Intelligence.

3.De La Cruz VM, Di Nuovo A, Di Nuovo S and Cangelosi A (2014). Making fingers and words count in a cognitive robot. FRONTIERS IN BEHAVIOURAL NEUROSCIENCE, 8:13.

4.Di Nuovo A., De La Cruz V.M. , Cangelosi A (2015) A Deep Learning Neural Network for Number Cognition: a bi-cultural study with the iCub. IEEE ICDL-Epirob 2015, pp. 320-325.

5.Cangelosi A., Morse A., Di Nuovo A., Rucinski M., Stramandinoli F., Marocco M., De La Cruz V., Fischer K. (2016). Embodied language and number learning in developmental robots. In M.H. Fischer & Y. Coello (Eds.), Foundations of Embodied Cognition. Taylor & Francis Press, pp. 275-293

6.Di Nuovo, A. (2017). An embodied model for handwritten digits recognition in a cognitive robot. IEEE Symposium Series on Computational Intelligence (SSCI), pp. 1-6. IEEE.

7.Di Nuovo, A. (2018). Long-Short Term Memory Networks for Modelling Embodied Mathematical Cognition in Robots. International Joint Conference on Neural Networks (IJCNN), pp. 1-7. IEEE.

8.Di Nuovo, A., McClelland, J.L. Developing the knowledge of number digits in a child-like robot. Nature Machine Intelligence 1, 594–605 (2019) doi:10.1038/s42256-019-0123-3. Free access link:

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