Robots that learn how to do complex tasks observing humans

Robots that learn how to do complex tasks observing humans

Training interactive robots may one day be an easy job for everyone, even those without programming expertise. Roboticists are developing automated robots that can learn new tasks solely by observing humans.

At home, you might someday show a domestic robot how to do routine chores. In the workplace, you could train robots like new employees, showing them how to perform many duties.

Making progress on that vision, MIT researchers have designed a system that lets these types of robots learn complicated tasks that would otherwise stymie them with too many confusing rules. One such task is setting a dinner table under certain conditions.

At its core, the researchers’ “Planning with Uncertain Specifications” (PUnS) system gives robots the humanlike planning ability to simultaneously weigh many ambiguous — and potentially contradictory — requirements to reach an end goal. In doing so, the system always chooses the most likely action to take, based on a “belief” about some probable specifications for the task it is supposed to perform.

In their work, the researchers compiled a dataset with information about how eight objects — a mug, glass, spoon, fork, knife, dinner plate, small plate, and bowl — could be placed on a table in various configurations. A robotic arm first observed randomly selected human demonstrations of setting the table with the objects. Then, the researchers tasked the arm with automatically setting a table in a specific configuration, in real-world experiments and in simulation, based on what it had seen.

To succeed, the robot had to weigh many possible placement orderings, even when items were purposely removed, stacked, or hidden. Normally, all of that would confuse robots too much. But the researchers’ robot made no mistakes over several real-world experiments, and only a handful of mistakes over tens of thousands of simulated test runs.

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Source: “Showing robots how to do your chores”, Rob Matheson, MIT News Office