The warehouse robot that recognizes the movements of colleagues

The warehouse robot that recognizes the movements of colleagues

Rodney Brooks knows about robots. In addition to pioneering academic research on robotics, he founded the companies that have gifted the world with robot vacuum cleaners, bomb disposal robots, and a robot designed for factories that can be easily programmed by anyone.

Now Brooks wants introduce another kind of innovative robotic helper: a mobile robot destined for warehouses capable of interpreting human body language and understanding what the workers around it are doing. Robots today increasingly work closely with humans, and finding ways to optimize human-machine cooperation could help companies increase productivity and possibly lead to the creation of new types of jobs rather than replacing people. . Providing robots with the ability to interpret human cues, however, is no easy feat.

Brooks' new company Robust Ai unveiled Carter, a mobile robot designed to work in warehouses. "The analogy is that with an assistance dog - Brooks explains in a video call -. He obeys you, you can change his behavior and his goal is to help you".

Carter looks like the large flat carts you can find in a home improvement store, but has a motorized base, a touchscreen above the handlebar, and a periscope equipped with several cameras. The robot uses these cameras to scan their surroundings, allowing its software to locate nearby workers and trying to infer what they are doing based on their location and the way they move. When moving boxes, for example, a human worker can walk up to a Carter robot that is moving independently and take control of it manually by grabbing the handlebar. Using a "no code" graphical interface, the robot can be configured to perform a variety of different tasks, such as following a person into a warehouse carrying items taken off the shelves.

Robotics pioneer Brooks is known for being among the first to explore new trends in robotics, and has explicitly criticized the hype recently sparked by advances in artificial intelligence (AI). His career, however, effectively illustrates the challenges of commercializing advanced robotic research.

WiredLeaks, how to send us an anonymous report In the 1990s Brooks helped make robots more practical by demonstrating the benefits of an approach which, by programming robots with relatively simple rules on how to respond to the environment, made complex behaviors possible. His lab was also a pioneer in human-robot interactions. Subsequently, Brooks co-founded iRobot, a company that developed floor cleaning robots, such as Roomba, and some machines used by the military for tasks such as bomb disposal. In 2008 he founded Rethink Robotics, a company that built two robots for the workplace called Baxter and Sawyer, designed to be easier to use than existing models (in 2018, however, the company was closed due to of few sales).

Interpreting and responding to human body language could represent the next quantum leap for robots, provided Brooks' new company can persuade other companies to buy its machines. To prevent them from harming someone, large industrial robots usually still work inside cages. Although factories and warehouses increasingly use wheeled robots to transport objects and low-powered robotic arms designed to work safely alongside people, in most cases human and robotic workers still remain separate.

According to data from the International Federation of Robotics industrial group, worldwide sales of work robots are steadily increasing, following the recent slowdown due to the pandemic. In 2020, sales of "collaborative robots", that is, that work in the same physical space as humans without necessarily assisting them directly, grew by 6 percent worldwide, compared to 0.5 percent in the same period for industrial robots in together.

Advances in human-robot interaction Last week, Amazon unveiled a new mobile robot, called Proteus, capable of sensing the presence of humans in a rudimentary way. While other robots in Amazon's facilities work in physical spaces separate from human ones - for example to bring shelves full of goods closer to human workers - Proteus is able to move around the areas where people are working. The robot uses sensors to observe humans or other obstacles and stops if it detects that it could hit someone. Amazon's announcement "indicates that they are making investments in ever-greater collaboration," said Brad Porter, who previously served as Amazon's vice president of robotics and is now the founder and CEO of Collaborative Robots, another startup that is developing robots designed to work closely with humans.

Robust Ai hopes to go a step further than Amazon by developing robots that can see what human workers are doing and help them. Brooks believes this should make human work less repetitive and could help workers take on new responsibilities. "We are not trying to replace people - Brooks says -. We want robots to work for people, not the opposite or".

See more Subscribe to Gadgetland and other Wired newsletters! Arrow Clara Vu, co-founder and chief technology officer of Veo Robotics, a company that has developed software to make even the largest and most powerful robots safe, says opportunities for human-robot collaboration on the job are increasing as the technology needed to detect, map and move around in human workplaces is becoming more and more common. "We are seeing more and more robots working together with people - says Vu -. People are starting to consider human and robotic capabilities as very complementary".

Robust Ai technology is aimed at smaller warehouses that they don't currently use much automation. Matt Beane, assistant professor at the University of California Santa Barbara who studies how organizations use AI and robotics and has been a consultant for Robust Ai, says many companies are unable to completely redesign their businesses around the world. traditional automation, which does not integrate effectively with people. Companies in this position may be more likely to invest in robots like Carter, although measuring the return on this type of human-robot collaboration may be difficult.

University professor Bilge Mutlu of Wisconsin-Madison, has conducted research showing that cooperation between humans and robots can sometimes improve productivity. Mutlu has partnered with Boeing to have robots perform tasks such as laying coatings or sanding as part of the construction of aircraft parts, with a human being supervising the work and intervening only if necessary. According to Mutlu, however, collaboration doesn't always make things better and sometimes it's not clear how to make the most of it: "In the academic world we make remarkable demonstrations, but the science is not yet at that level," he says. Brooks' latest robot may impress in demonstrations, but to be successful it will need to convince more companies to jump into automation.

This article originally appeared on US.

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