It may be a while before we have robotic human-like butlers cleaning our homes. However, a team of researchers and developers from Florida known as Team IHMC and their United States government Atlas robot (a multimillion dollar investment by Google) are trying their best to make it a reality.
The robotics team from the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (Team IHMC) is “teaching” the humanoid Atlas robot how to perform common human housework and chores. It is proving quite difficult - even for the incredibly intelligent team members that earned second place in the 2015 Darpa Robotics Challenge.
Atlas is what is known as a semi-autonomous system. The robot’s operator directs the robot where to be and what position it should take, such as where to place its hands on a vacuum cleaner. Then, the humanoid robot determines a plan of how to accomplish that task. For some tasks, Atlas’s actions are human-like and logical. Other tasks and chores require a re-thinking of how to complete the job in a manner that is very different from the way a person would perform the action.
A robot operator at IHMC, John Carff, said that, “It takes a lot of patience and out-of-the-box thinking to be a robot operator. When you approach a task or situation you’ve never seen before, you need to think of as many different ways of completing that task as you can and figure out what approach would be best for the robot. Many of the tasks Atlas performs are done a lot differently than a human would do the same task.”
One example of this is a humanoid robot’s actions of using a jack to move a pallet. A human has the coordination and thought process to stop the jack from rolling backwards or forward when pushing the handle to lift the pallet. However, Atlas needed to approach the task from the side of the jack, and it used its foot to stop the jack from moving forward as the pallet was raised.
For Team IHMC, the whole exercise was a great way of testing new code and algorithms beyond simply running the Robotics Challenge tasks time and time again. For the rest of the world, it means that our humanoid robot butlers will not be cleaning our houses any time soon.