Robot Butler’s Creativity Astonishes Its Own Manufacturers

November 9, 2017

A robot designed to clear clutter has learned how to cradle items in its limbs, the same style a human might hold a baby, Carnegie Mellon University said Wednesday. Even more remarkable, the robot seems to have tapped into this tender side all on its own.

“We never taught it that, ” Siddhartha Srinivasa, an associate professor of robotics at the school, said in a press release.

The robot, dubbed the Home Exploring Robot Butler( HERB ), utilizes a series of algorithms to solve problems and move objects around. HERB’s most remarkable feature is the ability to both recognize specific types of items and move them to certain areas. In a video shared by Carnegie Mellon, herb can be seen situating blocks and sorting them according to color.

Carnegie Mellon University
herb in action. Note that this isn’t the “cradling” behavior referenced above.

Srinivasa’s goal is for robotic assistants to move out of factories and into your home. In a factory decided, robots can be programmed to follow a very concrete routine, but homes are more chaotic. The ability to recognize and handle items according to context is key.

In other words: You require a robot butler that can understand what “grab me a beer” means. You wouldn’t want one that opens the fridge and interprets every item within as the same thing. Nor would you want a robot that has to move every single item in the fridge to access your Budweiser.

“When a person reachings for a milk carton in a refrigerator, he doesn’t necessarily move every other item out of the route, ” Carnegie Mellon explained in its press release. “Rather, a person might move an item or two, while shoving others out of the way as the carton is pulled out.”

We need to either turn our homes into factory floors or enable robots to understand and work with the jumble and uncertainty in our homes . Siddhartha Srinivasa, Carnegie Mellon University

The action of removing an item from a fridge seems so simple in human terms. You only reach out and grab it. But consider the fairly complex situate of actions you’re following when you do so. Your brain tells your arm to reach up and pull the fridge open. Your eyes locate what you want. Then you navigate “obstacles” in the way( some old pasta sauce, maybe, or a stick of butter ), close your fingers around the drink, remove your limb while clasping it and push the refrigerator shut.

From a programming perspective, that’s challenging: Machines lack your human intuition, so it’s up to algorithm and artificial intelligence to get the job done.

“So, our algorithm learns to cradle the object in the same route you learn to solve the Rubik’s cube, ” Srinivasa explained in an email to The Huffington Post. “We are also actively developing … algorithm that simultaneously learn the rules of involvement as they solve problems. This is critical because physical properties like friction are hard to estimate and change all the time.”

Put a different way, HERB learns according to context. It realized that the best style to transport a certain item was to cradle it, so that’s what it did, conveying some measure of “creativity” in the process.

Srinivasa told HuffPost he hopes his team’s research will bring us closer to robotic deputies in our homes .

“If we want robots in our everyday lives, we need to either turn our homes into factory floors or enable robots to understand and work with the clutter and uncertainty in our homes, ” Srinivasa said. “Our work takes a step towards solving that problem.”

Read more:

About the Author

Leave a Comment: