Robots: they’re just (almost) like you and me

Image courtesy of Franck V. on Unsplash.

Researchers at Cornell designed a robot capable of making its own decisions.


If you need to grab a beer off the shelf from Tesco, what do you do?

Maybe you reach your arm up and grab the lager, or perhaps you need a bit of a booster, so you adjust your height by standing on your tip toes. Without thinking, you make a decision on how to solve the problem facing you, even if it requires some adjustment on your behalf.

Now, for the first time, robots can do the same.

Scientists at Cornell University have developed a self-configuring modular robot — a robot capable of reassembling itself from its different parts and  making its own decisions when faced with tasks in different environments.  

Researchers built a library into the robot, giving it 57 different types of way it could rearrange itself and 97 functions it could choose from. Such functions included picking items up and adjusting its arms to reach high places.

When placed into an unknown environment, with a complex task, the shape-shifting robots were able to assess the environments and from its library, to decide how to respond. Such tasks included arranging colour-coded items into designated spots and placing a postage stamp on top of a high up box.

“I want to tell the robot what it should be doing, what its goals are, but not how it should be doing it,” principal researcher and associate professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, Hadas Kress-Gazit, told the Cornwall Chronicle. “I don’t actually prescribe, ‘move to the left, change your shape.’ All these decisions are made autonomously by the robot.”

Most robots are only able to complete one task, like vacuuming our rubbish off the floor or assisting warehouse workers with moving boxes.  Even then, these robotic systems require users to command the machine for when and how to function.

But now that scientists have successfully created a robot machine that is capable of perceiving its environments and autonomously deciding how to respond, we may not be so far off from a world that is looking increasingly similar to Black Mirror.

Let’s just hope that no one tells the researchers behind the Boston Dynamics dog.



Words: Taylor Paatalo | Subbing: Shruti Tangirala

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