Isaac Asimov would be pleased! Computer science professor Oussama Khatib and his research group at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory are working to make humanoid robots more graceful, useful and safety-conscious in complex human environments, according to a Stanford University announcement.
“Humanoid robots today can walk and wave, but they cannot interact with the world,” Khatib said. “We are developing robots with the capability to physically touch, push and move objects.”
To be useful, robots must be able to manipulate objects as they move through their environments — just like the Jetsons’ robotic maid Rosie gracefully slid through rooms as she dusted tables, cleaned windows and vacuumed the floor in the animated TV series.
One trick to making robot movements more human-like is to mimic the human tendency to use the minimal amount of muscular effort to accomplish the task, and to avoid doing anything uncomfortable, Khatib said. The researchers studied human movements to produce an “energy-optimization model,” which allows the robot to accomplish tasks using a “smooth path” while minimizing physical effort — just like humans do.
In about a year, Khatib hopes to see his ideas embodied in one of Honda’s humanoid robots, ASIMO. Though this seven-year-old robot can walk, run and greet passers-by, it cannot yet perform useful tasks in a complex, real-time world. With Khatib’s new software, ASIMO eventually will be able to perform chores such as ironing and clearing tables.
Robots like ASIMO also must be safe and human-friendly to achieve popularity in a human environment, the release noted. For example, to safely shake a person’s hand, a robot must understand the proper pressure to apply. So workers in Khatib’s lab have designed robot arms that use multiple motors (instead of just one) for a softer touch.
The Stanford announcement said Khatib envisions a not-so-distant future in which robots will perform boring chores such as washing dishes or filing office papers with little or no human involvement — except voice commands.