Engineers Design Robot That Can ‘Discover’ New Objects

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

A robot developed by scientists at Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Robotics Institute is able to analyze and learn about new objects.

Researchers developed a two-armed mobile robot called HERB that can ℠discover´ more than 100 objects in a home-like laboratory, including items like computer monitors and plants. Robots are typically designed with objects already preprogrammed into their software, so creating one that can understand objects on its own accord represents an important step forward into the future of robotics.

The CMU team built digital models and images of objects and then loaded them into HERB´s memory, or the “Home-Exploring Robot Butler.” Adding this feature allows HERB to discover objects on its own. Eventually, the team believes the implementation of HerbDisc will help people accomplish a variety of tasks in daily living.

Siddhartha Srinivasa, associate professor of robotics and head of the Personal Robotics Lab, says the robot’s ability to discover objects on its own sometimes even surprises the researchers. He said in one case, students left the remains of lunch in the lab, and the next morning when they returned, HERB had built digital models of both the pineapple and the bag and figured out how to pick each one up.

“We didn’t even know that these objects existed, but HERB did,” said Srinivasa, who jointly supervised the research with Martial Hebert, professor of robotics. “That was pretty fascinating.”

He said manually loading digital models of every object of possible relevance simply isn’t feasible, but giving robots the ability to do this on their own is crucial to eventually implementing robots more effectively in our daily lives.

HERB’s Kinect sensors give it a three-dimensional perspective and allow it to gather data about the shape of the objects being observed. The robot also is able to see whether a potential object can move on its own or whether it is moveable at all. HERB can note whether something is in a particular place at a particular time, and can use its arms to see if it can lift the object.

“The first time HERB looks at the video, everything ‘lights up’ as a possible object,” Srinivasa said.

He says that as the robot uses its domain knowledge, it becomes clearer what the object is and what it isn’t. Adding this knowledge nearly tripled the number of objects HERB was able to discover.

Robots are constantly under development, and there is still a long way to go before they are brought into our daily lives. However, scientists are making great strides. One researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology is developing a way to control a robot with his mind. Researcher Angel Perez Garcia says he is able to make a robot move using an EEG and brain power.