They have a name and a face and now they try to have a soul as well. They are robots more and more like us, robots with human features and advanced degrees of social interaction, so much so that they can even enter hospital wards to help doctors in psychiatric therapies or neurological developmental disorders. And Italy is at the forefront of these new steps in robotics. In Tuscany, the ‘Enrico Piaggio’ Research Center of the University of Pisa has created Abel, an android who looks like a 12-year-old boy and is also able to perceive his surroundings. In Genoa, the Italian Institute of Technology has developed iCub which has the shape and size of a child of about 4 years: it is the only robot in the world to have its body covered with an artificial skin – a tactile sensor – which allows it to understand if and how it is touched by man and to respond appropriately. The little iCub – from the English cube, meaning puppy – is the most widespread humanoid robot in the world. There are currently over 40 laboratories around the world that use iCub for their studies on Artificial Intelligence, in Europe, the USA, Japan and South Korea. A few months ago, for the first time in the world, the humanoid robot iCub entered a clinical rehabilitation center as part of an experimental therapy in the treatment of autism. “Abel has a strong biomimicry, with iCube we have focused more on mechanics. And the reality is that as Italians we position ourselves very well in the global robotics panorama” underlines Giorgio Metta – scientific director of the Italian Institute of Technology (Iit), interviewed by Adnkronos. “Robotics in Italy is very strong from a research point of view, robotics is a very pervasive technology and our country does very well. If we look through the international databases of robotics publications, Italy has a very good performance. which places it between the first and second place in the world, according to the indicators we want to consider “, Metta emphasizes. The scientist therefore remembers – in addition to Abel of the ‘Enrico Piaggio’ Research Center of the University of Pisa and iCub at the IIT of Genoa – also “the group of robotics of Naples of the Federico II University, a very strong group on industrial robotics and an inter-university laboratory together with various universities in the South and coordinated by Professor Bruno Siciliano “. To these are added, among others, “the robotics of the Sant’Anna School of Pisa and centers for biomedical applications such as that of the Biomedical Campus in Rome.” Robotics is a very lively sector in Italy “remarks Metta who was one of the three Italian representatives at the G7 forum on artificial intelligence in 2018 and one of the authors of the Italian Strategic Agenda on Artificial Intelligence. Just Metta coordinated the development of the iCub robot for over a decade making it, in fact, the reference platform for Research in Artificial Intelligence is present in dozens of laboratories around the world. Metta’s research takes place in the field of bio-inspired systems and humanoid robotics, with particular reference to the design of machines that can learn from experience. – as author or co-author – of more than 300 scientific publications as well as having held the role of Principal Investigator in about a dozen projects international and industrial research institutes. Furthermore, the technology developed on the iCube robot is finding applications in the biomedical and rehabilitation fields: from robotic limbs as prostheses for amputees, to the exoskeleton for the lower limbs as support for paraplegic patients up to the treatment of patients with diseases in the autism. And it is precisely in this last area that an iCube experiment started last December at the Don Orione Boggiano Pico Center in Genoa. A team of researchers from the Italian Institute of Technology and a medical team from Opera Don Orione are experimenting with the use of the child robot to improve the social interaction skills of children with autism.