We’re teaching robots to build their own tools
When the robot revolution comes, the weapons robots use to destroy us could be cobbled together from the scraps of our own society. You’ve been warned.
More realistically, though, researchers like a group at Georgia Tech are trying to figure out how robots can help us in the most dangerous situations, when our own logic may be clouded by stress.
Lakshmi Nair, a robotics PhD student and member of the group, told Quartz that the team was inspired by the tribulations of the astronauts aboard Apollo 13, who had to jury-rig together a carbon-monoxide removal system after an oxygen tank exploded on their vessel. Between the astronauts and staff on Earth, it took three days to figure out how to cobble together gear to help the astronauts survive. “When I came across that story, one of the things that struck me was that it took a very long time to come up with that solution,” Nair said. “I thought that was a space that robotics might be able to make a difference.”
Nair’s team developed a way for a camera-equipped robotic arm, when presented with a relatively random set of objects, to create tools that can help it solve problems. Using a technique called supervised learning, where the robot was shown objects to understand their properties and learn their uses, the bot was able to learn to put items together to carry out tasks. It could figure out, for example, that a bowl has a concavity, which could be used to scoop something up.
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