Robot Butler’s Creativity Surprises Its Own Makers

May 21 13:12 2016 Print This Article

(HUFF POST) – A robot designed to clear clutter has learned how to cradle items in its arms, the same way 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), uses 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 locating blocks and sorting them according to color.

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

In other words: You need 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 reaches for a milk carton in a refrigerator, he doesn’t necessarily move every other item out of the way,” 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.”

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