By enabling them to ask a question when they’re confused, an algorithm developed at Brown University helps robots get better at fetching objects, an important task for future robot assistants.
If someone asks you to hand them a wrench from a table full of different sized wrenches, you’d probably pause and ask, “which one?” Robotics researchers from Brown University have now developed an algorithm that lets robots do the same thing — ask for clarification when they’re not sure what a person wants.
The research, which will be presented this spring at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Singapore, comes from Brown’s Humans to Robots Lab led by computer science professor Stefanie Tellex. Her work focuses on human-robot collaboration — making robots that can be good helpers to people at home and in the workplace.
“Fetching objects is an important task that we want collaborative robots to be able to do,” Tellex said. “But it’s easy for the robot to make errors, either by misunderstanding what we want, or by being in situations where commands are ambiguous. So what we wanted to do here was come up with a way for the robot to ask a question when it’s not sure.”
Tellex’s lab had previously developed an algorithm that enables robots to receive speech commands as well as information from human gestures. It’s a form of interaction that people use all the time. When we ask someone for an object, we’ll often point to it at the same time. Tellex and her team showed that when robots could combine the speech commands with gestures, they got better at correctly interpreting user commands.
Still, the system isn’t perfect. It runs into problems when there are lots of very similar objects in close proximity to each other. Take the workshop table, for example. Simply asking for “a wrench” isn’t specific enough, and it might not be clear which one a person is pointing to if a number of wrenches are clustered close together.
“What we want in these situations is for the robot to be able to signal that it’s confused and ask a question rather than just fetching the wrong object,” Tellex said.
The new algorithm does that. It enables the robot to quantify how certain it is that it knows what a user wants. When its certainty is high, the robot will simply hand over the object as requested. When it’s not so certain, the robot makes its best guess about what the person wants, then asks for confirmation by hovering its gripper over the object and asking, “this one?”
One of the important features of the system is that the robot doesn’t ask questions with every interaction. It asks intelligently.
“When the robot is certain, we don’t want it to ask a question because it just takes up time,” said Eric Rosen, an undergraduate working in Tellex’s lab and co-lead author of the research paper with graduate student David Whitney. “But when it is ambiguous, we want it to ask questions because mistakes can be more costly in terms of time.”
And even though the system asks only a very simple question, “it’s able to make important inferences based on the answer,” Whitney said. For example, say a user asks for a wrench and there are two wrenches on a table. If the user tells the robot that its first guess was wrong, the algorithm deduces that the other wrench must be the one that the user wants. It will then hand that one over without asking another question. Those kinds of inferences, known as implicatures, make the algorithm more efficient.
To test their system, the researchers asked untrained participants to come into the lab and interact with Baxter, a popular industrial and research robot. Participants asked Baxter for objects under different conditions. The team could set the robot to never ask questions, ask a question every time, or to ask questions only when uncertain. The trials showed that asking questions intelligently using the new algorithm was significantly better in terms of accuracy and speed compared to the other two conditions.
The system worked so well, in fact, that participants thought the robot had capabilities it actually didn’t have. For the purposes of the study, the researchers used a very simple language model — one that only understood the names of objects. However, participants told the researchers they thought the robot could understand prepositional phrases like, “on the left” or “closest to me,” which it could not. They also thought the robot might be tracking their eye-gaze, which it wasn’t. All the system was doing was making smart inferences after asking a very simple question.
In future work, Tellex and her team would like to combine the algorithm with more robust speech recognition systems, which might further increase the system’s accuracy and speed.
Ultimately, Tellex says, she hopes systems like this will help robots become useful collaborators both at home and at work.
Receive an email update when we add a new ROBOT ASSISTANTS article.
The Latest on: Robot assistants
via Google News
The Latest on: Robot assistants
- LG begins trials for indoor robot delivery serviceon November 30, 2020 at 5:23 am
The company earlier deployed the robot assistant at Seoul National University Hospital where it has been tasked with picking up and delivering equipment, blood samples, prescription drugs and ...
- Cyber Monday sees up to 50% discounted off Coredy robot vacuum cleanerson November 28, 2020 at 4:37 am
Cyber Monday is a great time to score a bargain on a variety of products, including robot vacuum cleaners. Coredy currently has a sale on at Amazon, discounting its range of high-end cleaners by up to ...
- Clean up with Cyber Monday deals on ILIFE robot vacuumson November 28, 2020 at 3:33 am
Vacuuming the house doesn't have to be a chore and if you'd rather spend your time doing something fun, like gaming, then a robot vacuum is your new best friend. For Cyber Monday, ILIFE has your back ...
- Save $210 on this Shark robot vacuum for Black Fridayon November 27, 2020 at 12:23 pm
Thanksgiving cleanup. Take advantage of this Black Friday Shark robot vacuum deal that will have you saving $210.
- One day only: The self-emptying Shark IQ robot vacuum is $320 for Black Fridayon November 27, 2020 at 3:54 am
Self-emptying features are as revolutionary for robot vacuums as the invention of the autonomous vacuum itself, but self-emptying Roombas can cost $1,000 or even more. The Shark IQ Self-Empty XL ...
- Black Friday Roomba robot vacuum deals start at $179, but they’re bound to sell outon November 26, 2020 at 9:00 am
while Google Assistant & Alexa allow you to start cleaning with just the sound of your voice. INTRODUCING – The new Roomba i3+ Robot Vacuum. Takes cleaning off your mind, and your to-do list ...
- 10 amazing robot vacuums you can get under $300on November 24, 2020 at 10:25 am
We all deserve a robot vacuum this year, especially since a lot of us have transitioned to working from home. We're not only responsible for the upkeep of our homes, but many of us are actively ...
- Do You Have a Conflict of Interest? This Robotic Assistant May Find It Firston November 23, 2020 at 1:57 pm
They can’t detect all conflicts, but new computer programs serve as guard rails when scientists and publishers fail to self-police.
- How AI bots and voice assistants reinforce gender biason November 23, 2020 at 1:31 pm
The world may soon have more voice assistants than people—yet another indicator of the rapid, large-scale adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) across many fields. The benefits of AI are ...
via Bing News