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Leave it to the robot

Leave it to the robot
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Want to make a salad without risking slicing your fingers? Just leave it up to Kodiak.

That’s the aim of a team of researchers at Cornell University's Personal Robotics lab, who are busy developing new algorithms and software that will enable robots to increasingly work in human environments.

“The real high level goal for this project is basically just to have a robot do all those little things in your house that you don’t want to do,” says researcher and Ph.D student Ian Lenz.

Unlike other robots that are programmed to repeat the same motions over and over again, Kodiak is designed to be “intuitive” and can manipulate objects it may not have used before. To achieve this, researchers use a technique that emulates the human learning process.

Instead of manually “programming” their robots, they use a variety of methods to train them. The robots learn from images downloaded on the Internet, from observing people or from human feedback.

Kodiak’s special features include hi-tech cameras and fingertip sensors that indicate how much pressure is being generated at any given minute.

At Japanese electronics firm Panasonic, engineers are looking for ways to tackle the challenges of an ageing population. Their latest machine is called the “assist robot”. Equipped with built-in sensors, it can tell when someone is trying to stand up and intervenes to provide support. The user simply wears a vest which the robot latches on to.

“Once someone starts wearing nappies, then they slowly become confined to their bed. This is designed to get rid of that. This robot will allow people to actually get up and use the toilet,” says Panasonic’s Noriyuki Shikata.

The “assist robot” is just one of several inventions to take the burden off caregivers including a bed that transforms into a wheelchair, and an android assistant equipped with a screen that allows users to have real-time conversations with the outside world.