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Next-Generation Robot Needs Your Help

By Technology Review

November 12, 2014

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Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) professor Manuela Veloso believes robots can be made fully autonomous by designing them to ask for help when necessary.

Veloso's lab has programmed several robots, called Cobots, to ask the nearest human for help, or send out an office-wide email if no one is nearby, whenever they are at a loss. Several Cobots roam CMU's computer science department, ferrying packages between labs and offices, or showing guests around.

Veloso says programming robots to ask for help is easier than providing them with sophisticated language comprehension or skills in fine manipulation. "I am 100-percent sure that if people embraced robots with limitations, we would have them in our homes as we speak," she says.

Veloso wants the next generation of Cobots to determine for themselves when they might need assistance. She says that approach is a very simple and surprisingly effective way to address the inherent limitations of robots.

"It is a very good idea," says University of Wisconsin, Madison professor Bilge Mutlu, a specialist in human-robot interaction. "It's a lot more flexible and adaptable to day-to-day environments."

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