How did ancient humans learn to make tools? And can we apply that knowledge to help AI-based robots learn creative skills? Carlos Hernandez Corbato, from the department of cognitive robotics, and Geeske Langejans, department of materials science and engineering, are heading up the TU Delft part of a multinational project that is a unique combination of archaeology, neuroscience and robotics.

There is a parallel between our first toolmaking ancestors and robots. Geeske Langejans, researcher-lecturer at Delft University of Technology 

The highly experimental and novel METATOOL project combines symbolic models with computational models of synthetic metacognition and awareness. “Making new tools to resolve a problem requires an extended form of awareness, and there is a parallel between our first toolmaking ancestors and robots of the future,” explains Langejans.

The METATOOL project consortium at the kick-off meeting at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM) in Spain in October 2022.

Hernandez and Langejans were already collaborating on tool use and tool making, and the cognitive requirements that make that possible. Around 3.3 million years ago, our ancestors made the first tools, creating simple stones with sharp edges. This must have required imagination and reasoning.

How are we going to demonstrate our theory of awareness? Carlos Hernandez Corbato, assistant professor cognitive robotics

So, the scientists reasoned: if we can get robots to invent tools, this may imply some form of improved awareness and perception.

This idea became the binding factor for METATOOL. Hernandez says: “How are we going to demonstrate our theory of awareness in terms of a concrete example of technology that does something useful? By using it for robots to be able to invent tools.”

TIAGO ++, the robot used in the project, provided by PAL robotics.

The METATOOL project is a consortium of seven research institutions and companies from four different countries, and it has received four million euros from the European Innovation Council (EIC), a Pathfinder grant.

For more information see the official press release.