Tell Me Dave Robot Learns Through Conversations with Humans

Most robots come with predefined interactions with humans, so seeing one who has the ability of learning as people converse with it is really something else.

Instead of programming robots to react in a certain way, what if we could explain them what to do in simple steps, so that sets of instructions are added verbally. That could definitely cut down the lines of code written by roboticists. Researchers at Cornell University designed as part of the “Tell Me Dave” project a robot that learns new instructions while talking (or rather being talked to) by humans.

Tell Me Dave is based on Willow Garage’s PR2 robot, which could tell what people are doing by analyzing their movement patterns. PR2 was also able to identify objects and situations, fact that made his tasks a whole lot easier. Tell Me Dave employs a 3D camera to associate objects with the activities they’re used for.

In particular, Tell Me Dave could become one of the first robotic chefs in the world. What I mean by that is that it could make a lot of associations in the kitchen, starting with pans, faucets and stoves. For example, Tell Me Dave knows that pans have a concave surface that holds water poured from a faucet. Furthermore, that water could be heated by placing the pan on the stove. Assuming that the robot already knows these when starting a conversation with a human, when asked to boil some noodles, he will know exactly what to do.

The important aspect in this context is that the robot is able to memorize previous associations, in order to know how to further expand them in the future. Ashutosh Saxena, assistant professor of computer science at Cornell University, achieved this by teaching robots to understand instructions given in naturally-spoken language. The robots developed by Saxena and his fellow researchers are able to adapt to the surrounding environment. Saxena even pointed out that “With crowd-sourcing at such a scale, robots will learn at a much faster rate.”

The ones who happen to be in Berkeley, California between July 12-16, should definitely attend the Robotics: Science and Systems conference, where Saxena and graduate students Dipendra K. Misra and Jaeyong Sung will showcase the Tell Me Dave robot.

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