Your dreams of breakfast in bed, carefully and lovingly prepared and delivered by your sweet, caring robot are now closer than ever to fruition — well, minus the loving and the sweet and the caring. European research company RoboHow is now teaching robots how to perform practical, everyday tasks, for the home and the office. If they succeed, humanoids will be able to flip pancakes, reload paper in a printer, and perform a whole host of other activities that you’ve always wished you could have an assistant do for you. And now, you may just have one, R2D2 style.
The key to this “teaching” project is to construct a system permitting robots to both learn and communicate in a way that’s similar to human beings, perhaps even with the use of language. Currently, robots distill their knowledge from the programs their human controllers have preloaded into them. But hopefully, aided by RoboHow’s contribution, robots will be able to actually process information for themselves after reading or hearing a set of instructions, and then remember what they’ve learned so that they can apply the same concepts in the future.
Scientists are putting together open-ease.org, the Open Knowledge for AI-Enabled Robots, that is effectively a compilation of how-to’s that robots are able to understand. The primary task for now is centered on pancakes, which may seem menial, but actually requires a number of special skills that seem like second nature to humans. Robots have to learn how to open a container, pour batter, and hold and manipulate a spatula to flip the pancake, along with how to recognize when it has reached that perfect golden brown.
Professor Michael Beetz of Universität Bremen, the German institution that is taking the lead on this new challenge, explained, “If we can, with our robots, flip any pancake with any tool we have, then we can probably perform most of the challenging manipulation tasks that there are in daily life. But we need to teach the robot to manipulate, build a knowledge base, and then connect the two. In future, we want the robot to be able to ask ‘How do I clean this chair?’ and get the answer immediately.”
Welcome to the 21st century friends, where Watson makes recipes and robots cook them.