A truly smart robot finds an appropriate moving posture to push heavy objects

In
a robot, strength is important, but sometimes it’s more important how the
strength is directed. If you’ve ever had to move a refrigerator, you know that
the best course of action involves pushing or pulling the object instead of
lifting up, directly. The latest human-like robot developed by the University
of Tokyo’s JSK Laboratory takes that logic and expands on it, pushing, pulling,
and scooting washing machine and large objects. The robot uses impressive
posture and crouches, bracing itself so well that if it were human, it would be
protecting its back from lifting strain.

Researchers
Masayuki Inaba and Kei Okada programmed the robot, an HRP-2 model, to approach
each large object with a set of motions like pushing with it shoulders,
forearms, or with its back against the object. Just like a human, the robot
automatically cycles through the motions until it finds a successful way to
move the object.

Credit: University of Tokyo/JSK Laboratory
The
robot finds an appropriate moving posture by analyzing the object’s weight,
dimensions, and friction against the ground surface. The robot’s first attempts
are always lower force manipulations, and as it tries again, each attempt
increases in force. The robot also is quite stable on its feet. It is
programmed to adjust its footsteps to be shorter or longer based on how far it
is able to move the object.

A
truly smart robot adapts to a variety of challenges on the fly-like adjusting
its posture to push or pull big objects, just like a person does. But what
comes naturally to humans is a lot more complicated for robots.

It
sounds simple, but this is really cool behavior, as IEEE Spectrum explains.
This kind of improvisational problem-solving is an extremely human trait. Lots
of robots, especially ones currently being used in factories and whatnot, are
only programmed to do one task, in one way, in one place. For example, a robot
that stays in the same location on the work floor and lifts heavy boxes coming
down a pre-designated conveyor belt. Even more impressive is that the robot
doesn’t stumble or fall-like I might. It can adjust the size of its steps based
on how much, or little, the object is moving. This is also a big deal, because
it not only shows the robot replacing what could literally be back-breaking
labor for a human, but that it could also perform the task better than a human.

According
to Spectrum, the ‘bot was presented by University of Tokyo researchers in a
paper called “Whole-Body Pushing Manipulation With Contact Posture
Planning of Large and Heavy Object for Humanoid Robot,” at IEEE’s
International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle last week. 
(Via Gizmodo)

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further in IEEE

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