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Robots, Pancakes, and Pizzas

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Sony Creative Software Inc.

In most cases getting a robot to carry out a single task – such as picking up and moving an object – still takes hours of intricate programming. But researchers from California and Germany have developed  new ways to let robots learn sophisticated, human-like behaviours. They can give a robot an end goal along with an algorithm that lets it work out how to achieve the goal by itself. What we’re trying to say is these robots are learning to make pizzas and pancakes.

With it being Pancake Tuesday as well as National Pizza Day today many of us will have taken to WikiHow to look up instructions on making homemade batter or dough. Well over in Germany a robot called PR2 has been doing exactly the same. The researchers behind the project want to teach these robots the general knowledge required to turn high-level instructions into specific actions, and the robots are learning by reading WikiHow. By carefully reading the instructions the robots are able to figure out how to perform unfamiliar tasks. So rather than programming every precise movement, the robot can simply be given one end goal.

All the things that are second nature to a human such as the grasp and force needed to open a jar must be learned by the robots, so it is a long and challenging process. But once a robot has learned how a particular set of instructions relates to a task this knowledge is added to an online database which other robots can access.

Other techniques being used to help robots perform basic tasks include watching videos of humans performing those tasks, or by studying virtual reality data when humans have performed tasks with their actions being tracked.

By teaching robots to understand language and predict a sequence of actions it opens up very real possibilities of robots and humans working closely together in the near future.

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