A team at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) has developed a teachable robot that helps a person build IKEA furniture. The robot is first ‘taught’ what to do through what the team calls Programming by Demonstration.
Scientists and engineers have long been building robots that can do repetitive tasks quickly and accurately, but for the IIT robotics team led by Professor Sylvain Calinon, their focus is building robots that have some sense of judgement and can adjust to slight changes in the tasks.
The team developed a system that imitates judgement through three factors–constraints, recognition, and adaptation. The team used these factors to create a robot that learns how to do tasks and adjust accordingly to changes in the situation.
The robot developed by the IIT team holds up the table while a person attaches the table legs. First the robot is placed in compliant mode and the table is moved around in different positions by the person. This way, the robot is learning to follow the movements of its human partner. When the human partner starts screwing in a table leg, the robot recognizes this and stops moving to make it easier for the human partner to attach the table leg.
This programming by demonstration can be useful in making robots safer when working with humans. This means the robot can also be taught to go into compliant mode when it detects that the human partner is in danger during operations.
Watch this video of the robot in action.