Robots need to understand motive the way humans do, and not just perform tasks blindly without context, opines a new Birmingham study.
Undertaken by the National Center for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR), the study stresses that robots could effectively and safely work alongside people if they know the reason why they are doing a job.
Lead author and Birmingham University professor Dr Valerio Ortenzi contends that this shift in thinking will be necessary as economies embrace automation, connectivity, and digitisation.
It could also come in handy when dealing with different levels of human-robot interaction both at factories and homes.
The study’s focus is on robots that pick and grasp objects.
Most factory-based machines blindly pick up familiar objects that appear in predetermined places at just the right moment.
Getting a machine to pick up unfamiliar objects, randomly presented, requires the seamless interaction of multiple, complex technologies.
These include vision systems and advanced AI so that the machine can see the target and determine its properties, and sensors in the gripper which guide the robot to not inadvertently crush an object it has been told to pick up.
Even when all this is accomplished, NCNR engineers point out a fundamental issue: What has traditionally counted as a ‘successful’ grasp for a robot might actually be a real-world failure.
This is because the machine does not take into account what the goal is, and why it is picking an object up.
“Imagine asking a robot to pass you a screwdriver in a workshop. Based on current conventions the best way for a robot to pick up the tool is by the handle,” notes Ortenzi.
“Unfortunately, that could mean that a hugely powerful machine then thrusts a potentially lethal blade towards you, at speed.”
“Instead, the robot needs to know what the end goal is, i.e.,to pass the screwdriver safely to its human colleague, in order to rethink its actions.”
“What is obvious to humans has to be programmed into a machine and this requires a profoundly different approach,” contends Ortenzi.
“The traditional metrics used by researchers, over the past twenty years, to assess robotic manipulation, are not sufficient.”
“In the most practical sense, robots need a new philosophy to get a grip,” asserts Ortenzi.
Image and content: NCNR/University of Birmingham