Georgia Tech researchers upgrade robot arm with point-and-click interface

The Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a new, intuitive method for controlling a robotic arm: Point and click. While not exactly like the adventure games of old, it definitely draws its inspiration from the ability to highlight objects and perform a small selection of preselected tasks.

Although typical robotic arm controls offer a wide variety of options thanks to six degrees of motion, that can be cumbersome for people just getting to grips with the technology. What the new solution looks to do, is make it possible for novice robotics owners to utilize the technology in a manner that has a much shorter and shallower difficulty curve.

“Roboticists design machines for specific tasks, then often turn them over to people who know less about how to control them,” said David Kent, a Georgia Tech robotics doctoral student who headed up the project. “Most people would have a hard time turning virtual dials if they needed a robot to grab their medicine. But pointing and clicking on the bottle? That’s much easier.”

While simpler on the surface, such a system is a lot more complicated under the hood. Instead of displaying 3D information to the user, they simply offer a video feed. However, the arm itself needs to understand the 3D environment and know that when a person clicks on an object in the background and tells it to pick it up, it must differentiate that from objects in the foreground. It needs to know the distance that it must travel and the correct angle to “attack” it from.

The algorithm that the research team has come up with is capable of analyzing the geometry of objects, even making assumptions about them when the camera can’t see their entirety. This is something that the human brain does automatically, the researchers explained, but it was a challenge to make the robotic arm infer that detail for itself.

Although this technique of control does bequeath much of the responsibility of control to the algorithm and the arm, the system is actually less error prone than giving humans full control. In a trial, researchers found the point and click method delivered only one mistake per task, whereas the more traditional six degrees of motion control method had as many as four per task.

By giving users control over what to grab and how to do so when the arm is in the right position, researchers hope that robotic technology could more easily be adopted by those without training, or with limited mobility themselves, like the elderly. There are also potential applications for such robotic arms in sensitive settings, like search and rescue operations or in space travel.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Hi-viz bike reflectors and a tiny flashlight

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Computing

Opera web browser targets enhanced accessibility with major redesign

The browser wars are heating up. In the latest move for Opera, a new development release pushes it even closer to Chrome with a redesign and overall goal of redefining the modern web browser. 
Computing

Breaking: Amazon won’t build headquarters in New York in face of opposition

Amazon has canceled plans for a New York City headquarters afer citizens, civic groups, and politicians pushed back on Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's exclamation of economic joy over Amazon's earlier…
Computing

DLSS is finally arriving in games, but how does Nvidia's super-sampling actually work?

Nvidia's new DLSS technology is exciting, but what is it and how does it work? It's not quite anti-aliasing and it's not quite super sampling. It's a little bit of both and the end results can be impressive.
Computing

A new Mac Pro is supposedly coming in 2019, but what will it be like?

Our Mac Pro 2019 rumor roundup covers all the top news, leaks, and rumors about the new Mac Pro set to be announced sometime in 2019. Here's what Apple has said, what the experts think, and what's likely to show up with the new Mac Pro.
Gaming

Take to the virtual skies with these free flight simulators

You don't have to spend the entirety of your paycheck to become a virtual ace, at least when it comes to flight simulation. Our list of the best free flight simulators will let you unleash your inner Maverick.
Gaming

Wage war on a budget with these fun and free first-person shooters

We all know about Halo and Call of Duty by now, but what about quality titles that won't cost you upward of $60? Check out our picks for the best free first-person shooter games from Paladins to Quake Champions.
Computing

Enjoy Windows on a Chromebook with these great tips and tricks

If you want to push the functionality of your new Chromebook to another level, and Linux isn't really your deal, you can try installing Windows on a Chromebook. Here's how to do so in case you're looking to nab some Windows-only software.
Computing

Switch your WMA files for MP3s with our quick conversion tips

The WMA codec may be great when it comes to multi-channel surround sound, but unfortunately, it falters in terms of compatibility. Check out our guide on how to convert WMA files to MP3 via web-based or desktop methods.
Computing

Looking for a new laptop? These 5 notebooks are on sale through Presidents’ Day

If you're ready to ditch your aging notebook, you can score some fantastic Presidents' Day savings right now on Microsoft's Surface Pro 6, Dell's XPS 13, HP's Spectre x360, Lenovo's Yoga C930, and Dell's G5 15 Gaming laptops.
Virtual Reality

Getting into VR is spendy. Which headset is truly worth your hard-earned cash?

Virtual reality has finally gone mainstream, but how do you find the best VR headset for you? Check out a few of our favorites, whether you want the best of the best or a budget alternative for your mobile device.