Robots Are Smarter Than You
April 21, 2013

Robots Are Smarter Than You

Imagine a robot so smart it could assemble IKEA furniture! What’s more, it’s not programmed; it learns.

I saw I, Robot. It was scary.

Imagine a much less creepy looking robot that may just be smarter than Sonny, but it won’t kill anybody or do anything questionable. It’ll just build your IKEA furniture.

Yeah, that sleek, modern contemporary, flat-pack furniture that’s supposed to be so easy to construct that the instructions don’t even have words. If you’ve ever built their EXPEDIT bookshelf, you know that easy isn’t the word to describe your adventure.

Fret no more. Italian researchers, Leonel Rozo, Sylvain Calinon, and Darwin Caldwell of the Italian Institute of Technology’s Department of Advanced Robotics are here to rescue you from flat-pack furniture forever with their revolutionary robot.

It’s revolutionary because it’s not just programmed to repeat tasks over and over again; instead, it learns using a process called kinesthetic teaching.

The user would grasp the robot with their hands to demonstrate exactly how it should move, like teaching a young child.

Then, according to Daily Mail, “the sensor – mounted at the wrist of the robot – and the vision tracking system was used to record the position and orientation of the table legs that need to be mounted at four different points on the table top.”

After being taught, the robot then, “learns to be compliant to let the user re-orient the table top in a comfortable pose to screw the corresponding table leg.”

“Once the user starts to screw the leg, the robot becomes stiff to facilitate the task. The robot assists the IKEA builder in flipping the tabletop over and becomes stiff while the builder screws the legs of the table in.”

The whole idea is to teach robots to be smarter, to be more like humans based on our movements. That’s precisely why it sounds scary to me.

I’ve actually built my fair share of IKEA flat-pack furniture, and the EXPEDIT bookshelf is actually in my home office. Maybe I’m the diamond in the rough, but my daughter (who was five years old at the time) and I built it in about an hour and a half. No sweat.

That’s not to diminish the impressive feat that Rozo and Calinon have accomplished. It’s to illustrate that I’m awesome because everyone know’s IKEA furniture is a real pain.

All kidding aside, they wrote in a paper called Learning Collaborative Impedance-based Robot Behaviors team, “The behavior is not pre-programmed, but is instead learn by the robot by extracting the regularities of the task from multiple demonstrations. Research in learning from demonstration has focused on transferring movements from humans to robots.”

According to Digital Trends, “In the case of a small side table, the robot helps a little – but we can see major uses when building larger furniture like bedframes and entertainment centers that require additional man power.”

They continue to explain, “However, a need is arising for robots that do not just replicate the task on their own, but that also interact with humans in a safe and natural way to accomplish tasks cooperatively. Robots with variable impedance capabilities opens the door to new challenging applications, where the learning algorithms must be extended by encapsulating force and vision information.”

So, maybe the robot is not like Sonny after all. Rozo and Calinon will be at the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI-13) during the week of July 14–18, 2013 in Bellevue, Washington, USA. They said they will be bringing Swedish meatballs and lingonberry drinks.

Image Credit: Ociacia / Shutterstock

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