A team of researchers working in a MIT lab has built an intelligent tow tank (ITT) that is capable of carrying out fluid dynamics experiments, and have used it to carry out 100,000 such experiments in just one year. In their paper published in the journal Science Robotics, the team describes the ITT, its capabilities and what it has been working on for the past year. When engineers design ships, they want the resulting vehicle to move through the water as efficiently as possible. This involves applying fluid dynamics research. But as the experiments by the team at MIT demonstrate, there is still more to learn.
In its first year of operation, the Intelligent Towing Tank (ITT) conducted about 100,000 total experiments, essentially completing the equivalent of a PhD student's five years' worth of experiments in a matter of weeks. The automated experimental facility, developed in the MIT Sea Grant Hydrodynamics Laboratory, automatically and adaptively performs, analyzes, and designs experiments exploring vortex-induced vibrations (VIVs). Important for engineering offshore ocean structures like marine drilling risers that connect underwater oil wells to the surface, VIVs remain somewhat of a phenomenon to researchers due to the high number of parameters involved. Guided by active learning, the ITT conducts series of experiments wherein the parameters of each next experiment are selected by a computer. Using an "explore-and-exploit" methodology, the system dramatically reduces the number of experiments required to explore and map the complex forces governing VIVs.
"I was determined to do it precisely because I was told it was impossible." So says Yasuo Kuniyoshi, professor at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, in a quiet tone. However, the sharp glint in his eye betrays his grand ambition of developing a truly clever artificial intelligence to benefit humankind. Some current forms of artificial intelligence (AI), such as speech recognition and automated driving, are just as competent as humans--if not better--at carrying out their given tasks.However, just as AI developed for speech recognition cannot play chess, and chess-playing AI cannot drive a car, existing forms of AI are incapable of any actions beyond those intended by their creators. Because AI does not "think" the same way humans do, it cannot adapt to conditions besides the preconceived context it was programmed for in advance.For AI to be truly intelligent and highly adaptable, it must be able to think in the same way as humans.
For millions of years, as animals have evolved to take myriad shapes and forms, they have adapted to solve a variety of physical challenges. Many have overcome obstacles that humans face as well. With the rise of new technologies to measure and analyze their movements, we can now see animals with more clarity and precision than ever before. The research is having a significant impact on robotics, materials science and a range of other fields. Jerry's fellow dogs and a number of other species have flexible spines supported by pliable back muscles and controlled by a network of neurons called the central pattern generator; this combination allows them to turn, twist, run, swim and recover from a trip or misstep without the lag time of waiting for commands from the brain.
A team of researchers led by Rajesh Rao, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington, recently published a paper showing how robots can learn much like children – amassing data by watching adults do something, determining the goal of the action and then deciding how to perform it on their own. "This is a major step in designing robots that can learn from watching humans," said Micah Clark, a program officer in ONR's Warfighter Performance Department who oversees Rao's research. "It could one day result in truly intelligent machines that understand the intent and goals behind certain tasks, and help humans achieve those goals." For decades, scientists, writers, and filmmakers have envisioned a future where robots make human life safer and easier by doing mundane household chores or helping troops in battle. Rao believes this type of artificial intelligence might be achieved with inspiration from the most adorable and inquisitive of humans; babies.