This month saw the European Conference on AI (ECAI 2020) go digital. Included in the programme were five plenary talks. In this article we summarise the talk by Professor Carme Torras who gave an overview of her group's work on assistive AI, and talked about the ethics of this field. Carme is based at the Institut de Robòtica i Informàtica Industrial (CSIC-UPC) in Barcelona. Her lab includes an assisted living facility where the team can test their robots in real-life situations.
Abstract-- Cloth manipulation is very relevant for domestic robotic tasks, but it presents many challenges due to the complexity of representing, recognizing and predicting behaviour of cloth under manipulation. In this work, we propose a generic, compact and simplified representation of the states of cloth manipulation that allows for representing tasks as sequences of states and transitions. We also define a graph of manipulation primitives that encodes all the strategies to accomplish a task. Our novel representation is used to encode the task of folding a napkin, learned from an experiment with human subjects with video and motion data. We show how our simplified representation allows to obtain a map of meaningful motion primitives and to segment the motion data to obtain sets of trajectories, velocity and acceleration profiles corresponding to each manipulation primitive in the graph.
Lio is a mobile robot platform with a multi-functional arm explicitly designed for human-robot interaction and personal care assistant tasks. The robot has already been deployed in several health care facilities, where it is functioning autonomously, assisting staff and patients on an everyday basis. Lio is intrinsically safe by having full coverage in soft artificial-leather material as well as having collision detection, limited speed and forces. Furthermore, the robot has a compliant motion controller. A combination of visual, audio, laser, ultrasound and mechanical sensors are used for safe navigation and environment understanding. The ROS-enabled setup allows researchers to access raw sensor data as well as have direct control of the robot. The friendly appearance of Lio has resulted in the robot being well accepted by health care staff and patients. Fully autonomous operation is made possible by a flexible decision engine, autonomous navigation and automatic recharging. Combined with time-scheduled task triggers, this allows Lio to operate throughout the day, with a battery life of up to 8 hours and recharging during idle times. A combination of powerful on-board computing units provides enough processing power to deploy artificial intelligence and deep learning-based solutions on-board the robot without the need to send any sensitive data to cloud services, guaranteeing compliance with privacy requirements. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lio was rapidly adjusted to perform additional functionality like disinfection and remote elevated body temperature detection. It complies with ISO13482 - Safety requirements for personal care robots, meaning it can be directly tested and deployed in care facilities.
Most of the discussion around robots and ethics lately has been about whether autonomous cars will decide to run over the nearest kitten or a slightly farther away basket full of puppies. Whether or not robots can make ethical decisions when presented with novel situations is something that lots and lots of people are still working on, but it's much easier for robots to be ethical in situations where the rules are a little bit clearer, and also when there is very little chance of running over cute animals. At ICRA last month, researchers at Georgia Tech presented a paper on "an intervening ethical governor for a robot mediator in patient-caregiver relationship." The idea is that robots will become part of our daily lives, and they are much, much better than humans at paying close and careful attention to things, without getting distracted or bored, forever. So robots with an understanding of ethical issues would be able to observe interactions between patients and caregivers, and intervene when they notice that something's not going the way it should.