Robotics Brain and Cognitive Sciences

Robotics Brain and Cognitive Sciences

The focus of Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Sciences Unit (RBCS) is a “human centric” approach to interaction science along three main branches of research: i) humanoid robotics with a focus on cognition; ii) human behavioural studies and rehabilitation with a focus on action and perception; iii) human-machine communication and interaction with a focus on agent-agent cooperation guided by mutual understanding. A factor, common to all branches, is the focus on learning and development in the framework of goal-directed actions.

Our group takes in account the impact of our research on various aspects. 

The scientific value lies in the advancement of knowledge through the investigation of human motor, perceptual and cognitive abilities as well as the implementation of explanatory embodied models of such abilities.
The technological impact is produced by scientific results thanks to the development of new devices and technologies in three main areas: i) Hardware and software for machine intelligence; ii) Tools for quantitative assessment of human performance in healthy and disabled persons; iii) Sensory and motor rehabilitation tools and protocols. A social value is produced by exploiting supportive and rehabilitation technologies to improve social inclusion and the quality of life particularly of the weak components of our society.  
A network of formalized collaborations and joint labs established with clinical and rehabilitation centres validates this value chain.

RBCS Unit embodies the concept of interdisciplinarity by hosting and nurturing collaborations between scientists with very diversified background sharing an interest in producing these scientific, technological and social values.



RBCS scientists share a research infrastructure supporting psychophysical, behavioural and neurophysiological research based on experimental set-up including devices for motion tracking with force platforms, equipment for transcranial magnetic stimulation and electrophysiological recording (EEG and EMG). A full-fledged iCub humanoid robot is available for Cognitive Robotics experiments and human-robot interaction studies. Ad hoc experimental set-ups and protocols, as well as haptic devices for rehabilitation and interaction are developed by the mechanical and electronic facilities. Clinical studies and validation of rehabilitation protocols are carried out within several joint labs established in clinical and rehabilitation centres and through national and international collaborations.

Activities List

Motor Learning, Assistive and Rehabilitation Robotics (P. Morasso, J, Zenzeri)

The Motor Learning, Assistive and Rehabilitation Robotics group focuses on Robotics and Interaction Technologies for Neuroscience and Neurorehabilitation. In particular, the research is articulated as follows: the development cutting edge mechatronic and robotic technology to enhance/augment human-robot interaction with a special focus on robot-aided rehabilitation and assistance; the study of neural plasticity that underlies the organization of the human sensorimotor system and its capacity to learn motor skills in the context of a complex environment; integration technology in the clinical/home environment developing new standards of assessment both at the device and at the service level.

Cognitive Robotics and Human-Human Interaction (A. Sciutti, F. Rea)

The aim of our research is to investigate the sensory and motor mechanisms underlying mutual understanding in human-human interaction, with the technological goal of designing robots that can naturally cooperate with people in carrying out everyday tasks. The peculiarity of our approach is that robots, rather than being just the final goal of the research, are used as the ideal tool to investigate social interaction in a principled way.

Dynamic Touch and Interaction Lab (G. Baud-Bovy)

Our research activity is currently focused on the haptic perception and exploration of the environment, the control of finger forces in multi-finger grasp and, more generally, physical interaction with objects or persons.  The group has developed new devices and robotic platforms to test human perceptual abilities with a focus on haptics. It has expertise in kinematic and dynamic analysis of movement, behavioural and psychophysical techniques and the modelling of perceptual and decisional processes. It is involved in various projects that aims at introducing this technology at home, school and other daily settings.

Spatial Awareness and Multisensory Perception (L. Brayda)

We investigate how sensory deprived individuals compensate missing sensory channels by vicarious modalities. Our focus is on sensory enhancement and how to achieve it with novel assistive technologies, mainly aimed at the construction of cognitive maps. Our methodology serves to build hardware/software platforms to decrease the digital divide, therefore increasing social inclusion. We focus on three main topics

Sensory Substitution: How much spatial knowledge depends on visual experience? We investigate the neural and behavioural correlates of tactile spatial representations. 

Small Area Haptic Device: Are we able to understand simple tactile virtual objects? We study how information can be coded, displayed and understood by humans through low-tech haptic displays.

Sensory Supplementation: Is it possible to improve the spatial soundscape of hearing impaired individuals? We study how binaural acoustic feedback can be used in context where hearing loss prevents proper spatial awareness.


  • TMS LAB (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Laboratory) equipped with MagStim stimulator Rapid2 and  Bistim. Power 1401  high-performance data acquisition interface (Cambridge Electronic Design)
  • EEG LAB (Electroencephalography Laboratory) equipped with 64 channel BrainAmp and two BioSemi 64ch device for testing dual subject simultaneous EEG.
  • MOCAP LAB (Motion Capture  Laboratory)  with ten near infrared camera (VICON), three force platform (AMTI) and 32 channel EMG Wireless (COMETA) and OPTOTRAK CERTUS (NDI)  Motion Capture device using active infrared markers.
  • HRI LAB (Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory) equipped with an iCub humanoid platform and an iKart mobile robotic platform.
  • HPL LAB (Haptic Perception Laboratory) equipped with commercial and special purpose Haptic interfaces to study human perception and rehabilitation
  • EYETRACKING LAB equipped with an Eyelink II (SR research) head mounted eyetracker.
  • REHAB LAB equipped with a bimanual/dyadic manipulandum (Braccio di Ferro 2), three manipulanda for wrist movements (WRISTBOT) and other custom haptic devices and sensors for physical human-robot interaction.


  • The ALLSPEAK project (automatic speech recognition App for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients, granted by AriSLA) aims at allowing ALS patients to verbally communicate their primary needs throughout the whole course of their disease. It employs a machine learning approach in order to fit to patients’ residual voice production skills - PI: Alberto Inuggi.
  •  BLINDPAD project (European FP7, 2014-2017): For visually impaired people it is difficult to digitally get graphical contents increasingly conveyed through sight. The sense of touch can potentially bridge the gap, as it is crucial – in absence of vision – for understanding abstract concepts and acquiring information about the surroundings. The objective of the project is to make graphical contents accessible to blind persons through touch by a tablet-shaped device.
  • The  GLASSENSE project (financed by the Ligurian Region, 2014-2016) aims at building novel devices to assist hearing-impaired and visually-impaired people in daily tasks, improving their acoustic spatial awareness and providing spatialized tactile feedback.
  • The  TAMO is a minimalist mouse-shaped tactile device which displays virtual objects on a fingertip, using just one actuator. TAMO exploits haptic feedback and helps with developing mental maps. The follow-up projet Teletatto is financed by Vodafone Digital for Social (2016-2017). Target applications : Computer-aided Rehabilitation, orientation and mobility for blind and visually impaired users, education and entertainment.
  • CODEFROR project (COgnitive Development for Friendly RObots and Rehabilitation):The objective of the joint exchange project is to investigate aspects of human cognitive development with the double goal of developing robots able to interact with humans in a friendly way and of designing and testing protocols and devices for sensory and motor rehabilitation.
  • The PACE (Perception and Action in Complex Environments) program is an Innovative Training Network financed by the European Commission and coordinated by the Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone, Marseilles, that finances two PhD students at RBCS. The goal of their research is to understand how humans and robot manipulate articulated objects.
  • The WeDraw Project financed by the European Commission (Horizon 2020 No. 732391) and coordinated by IIT Unit for Visually Impaired Persons(U-VIP) aims at developing multimodal serious games to teach mathematical and geometric concept in elementary schools. For this project, RBCS is developing a haptic platform that provides force feedback to the children.


  •  U-VIP line: Long lasting collaboration with the researchers of the U-VIP in the field of sensorimotor integration, devices for sensory rehabilitation and social inclusion.
  • Ongoing collaboration in the field of Cognitive Robotics and Human-Robot interaction with University of Osaka (Y. Nagai, M. Asada), University of Genova (A. Bisio, F. Odone, A. Verri, N. Noceti), Heriot-Watt University (K. Lohan), University of Rio Grande do Sul (A. Maciel, L. Nedel), Ecole Polythechnique Federale de Lausanne (H.Shea).
  • Collaborations with Northwestern University (F.A. Mussa Ivaldi) and University of Genova (M. Casadio) on motor control and neuroreahabilitation and Universität Paderborn (K. Rohlfing) on anticipation in infancy.
  • Collaboration with University of Lethbridge (M. Tata) on attentional system for robots.
  • Collaboration with Osaka University (T. Nomura), Manchester Metropolitan University (I. Loram) and Brock University (M. Holmes) on models of human motor control mechanisms.
  • Collaboration with San Francisco State University (C. L. Hughes), Nanyang Technological University (L. Masia) and University of Minnesota (J. Konczak) on robotic rehabilitation.
  • Joint Lab with Pediatric Hospital Gaslini (P. Moretti) on Robotic Assessment and Rehabilitation for children with Neurological Diseases.
  • Collaboration with San Martino Hospital/Dinogmi (G. Abbruzzese) on Robotic Assessment and Rehabilitation for Neurological patients.
  • Joint Lab with Centre for Motor Rehabilitation of INAIL (P. Catitti) on Robotic Rehabilitation for Orthopedic patients.
  • Fondazione David Chiossone per ciechi e ipovedenti" (Elena Cocchi)
  • Fondazione IRIFOR


IIT Publications List

Tatti F., Baud-Bovy G.
Force sharing and other collaborative strategies in a dyadic force perception task
PLoS ONE, vol. 13, (no. 2)
Sandini G., Mohan V., Sciutti A., Morasso P.
Social cognition for human-robot symbiosis - challenges and building blocks
Frontiers in Neurorobotics
Avila Mireles E.J., Zenzeri J., Squeri V., Morasso P., De Santis D.
Skill learning and skill transfer mediated by cooperative haptic interaction
IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, vol. 25, (no. 7), pp. 832-843
Tonelli A., Gori M., Brayda L.
The influence of tactile cognitive maps on auditory space perception in sighted persons
Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 7, (no. NOV)