We're still a fair ways off from having domestic robots that can fold our laundry, or empty the dishwasher. Part of the problem, aside from the mechanical challenges, is developing a robot that's smart enough and adaptable enough to learn simple tasks — a cognitive skill that's called artificial general intelligence.
But as a new research project conducted by Maya Cakmak from Georgia Tech has revealed, it may soon be possible for everyday people to teach robots some very basic skills — and without having any prior knowledge of robotics or programming languages.
To make this work, Cakmak used a mobile manipulator system called PR2 — an agile robot with two arms and tweezer-like fingers that it uses to perform simple manipulation tasks. To help "teach" the robot, Cakmak developed a spoken dialogue interface that end-users can use to instruct it. Additionally, the robot can be taught to perform certain tasks by having its arms and fingers manipulated — movements that it learns, stores in memory, and then executes on command (i.e. programming by demonstration).
To see if it could work, Cakmak recruited 30 participants who had no experience programming software or working with robots. Armed with a basic tutorial and an end-goal in mind, the volunteers successfully taught the PR2 how to do basic things like fold sheets or pick up a bottle of medicine from a cabinet.
Though not super-futuristic, the programmable PR2 could be used in the very near future (if not already) to bridge the gap until the day more sophisticated robots can be developed. Moreover, Cakmak's research shows that (1) robots can be taught to perform a near endless array of unorthodox tasks and (2) virtually anybody can program these robots to suit their needs.
Be sure to watch the video above — including right up until the very end, for a cute surprise.