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Scientists Have Made A Software That Makes Robots Smarter


Scientists, including an Indian-origin professor, have developed a new software which helps robots efficiently cope with challenges like grabbing a milk jug from the back of the refrigerator while boosting their creativity in solving problems. Developed by the team at Carnegie Mellon University, the rearrangement planner software was developed in the robotics lab of Siddhartha Srinivasa. “It was exploiting sort of superhuman capabilities,” Srinivasa said of his lab’s two-armed mobile robot called “Home Exploring Robot Butler” or HERB.

What can HERB do?

“The robot’s wrist has a 270-degree range, which led to behaviours we didn’t expect. Sometimes, we’re blinded by our own anthropomorphism,” he added.

In one case, the robot used the crook of its arm to cradle an object to be moved. “We never taught it that,” Srinivasa said. In addition to HERB, the software was tested on NASA’s KRex robot which is being designed to traverse the lunar surface. While HERB focused on clutter typical of a home, KRex used the software to find traversable paths across an obstacle-filled landscape while pushing an object. The rearrangement planner automatically finds a balance between the two strategies, Srinivasa said, based on the robot’s progress on its task. The robot is programmed to understand the basic physics of its world so it has some idea of what can be pushed, lifted or stepped on. It can be taught to pay attention to items that might be valuable or delicate.

All’s good, but…

One limitation of this system is that once the robot has evaluated a situation and developed a plan to move an object, it effectively closes its eyes to execute the plan. The findings were presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Stockholm, Sweden, recently.

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