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#299: On the Novelty Effect in Human-Robot Interaction, with Catharina Vesterager Smedegaard

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The typical view is that while something is new, or "a novelty", it will initially make us behave differently than we would normally. But over time, as the novelty wears off, we will likely return to our regular behaviors. For example, a new robot may cause a person to behave differently initially, as its introduced into the person's life, but after some time, the robot won't be as exciting, novel and motivating, and the person might return to their previous behavioral patterns, interacting less with the robot.


Data-driven deep reinforcement learning

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One of the primary factors behind the success of machine learning approaches in open world settings, such as image recognition and natural language processing, has been the ability of high-capacity deep neural network function approximators to learn generalizable models from large amounts of data. Deep reinforcement learning methods, however, require active online data collection, where the model actively interacts with its environment. This makes such methods hard to scale to complex real-world problems, where active data collection means that large datasets of experience must be collected for every experiment – this can be expensive and, for systems such as autonomous vehicles or robots, potentially unsafe. In a number of domains of practical interest, such as autonomous driving, robotics, and games, there exist plentiful amounts of previously collected interaction data which, consists of informative behaviours that are a rich source of prior information. Deep RL algorithms that can utilize such prior datasets will not only scale to real-world problems, but will also lead to solutions that generalize substantially better.


Call for robot holiday videos 2019

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You better not run, you better not hide, you better watch out for brand new robot holiday videos on Robohub!


RoboNet: A dataset for large-scale multi-robot learning

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Note that any GIF compression artifacts in this animation are not present in the dataset itself. After collecting a diverse dataset, we experimentally investigate how it can be used to enable general skill learning that transfers to new environments. First, we pre-train visual dynamics models on a subset of data from RoboNet, and then fine-tune them to work in an unseen test environment using a small amount of new data. The constructed test environments (one of which is visualized below) all include different lab settings, new cameras and viewpoints, held-out robots, and novel objects purchased after data collection concluded. Example test environment constructed in a new lab, with a temporary uncalibrated camera, and a new Baxter robot.


ROBOTT-NET pilot project: Cobots for safe and cheap assembly of frequency converters

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At Danfoss in Gråsten, the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) is testing, as part of a pilot project in the European robot network ROBOTT-NET, several robot technologies: Manipulation using force sensors, simpler separation of items and a 3D-printed three-in-one gripper for handling capacitors, nuts and a socket handle. "The set-updemonstrates various techniques that provide a cheaper solution, increased robustness and increased safety for operators", says Søren Peter Johansen Technology Manager at DTI. "For example, there is a force-torque sensor in the robot which is used to manoeuvre things carefully into place, and also to increase the confidence of the operators. The force-torque sensor will sense and prevent collisions with people before the built-in safety features of the robot stop the robot arm. Thus, we can also increase safety and confidence by working with collaborative robots", he says. Increased effectiveness Danfoss in Gråsten has tested the robot in connection with the company's production of frequency converters.


How to design and control robots with stretchy, flexible bodies

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MIT researchers have invented a way to efficiently optimize the control and design of soft robots for target tasks, which has traditionally been a monumental undertaking in computation. Soft robots have springy, flexible, stretchy bodies that can essentially move an infinite number of ways at any given moment. Computationally, this represents a highly complex "state representation," which describes how each part of the robot is moving. State representations for soft robots can have potentially millions of dimensions, making it difficult to calculate the optimal way to make a robot complete complex tasks. At the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems next month, the MIT researchers will present a model that learns a compact, or "low-dimensional," yet detailed state representation, based on the underlying physics of the robot and its environment, among other factors.


The 5G report card: Building today's smart IoT ecosystem

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Almost every presentation began apologetically with the refrain, "In a 5G world" practically challenging the industry's rollout goals. At one point Brigitte Daniel-Corbin, IoT Strategist with Wilco Electronic Systems, sensed the need to reassure the audience by exclaiming, 'its not a matter of if, but when 5G will happen!' Frontier Tech pundits too often prematurely predict hyperbolic adoption cycles, falling into the trap of most soothsaying visions. The IoTC Summit's ability to pull back the curtain left its audience empowered with a sober roadmap forward that will ultimately drive greater innovation and profit. The industry frustration is understandable as China announced earlier this month that 5G is now commercially available in 50 cities, including: Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.


#298: Cognitive Robotics Under Uncertainty, with Marlyse Reeves

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Marlyse is a third-year PhD student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. She received her B.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT in 2017. Her current research in the Model-based Embedded and Robotic Systems Group focuses on multi-vehicle online planning, incorporating complex dynamics and constraints. She is also interested in risk-aware planning, fault protection and diagnosis, and adaptive sampling. Outside of the lab, she enjoys playing soccer, dancing, and reading science fiction.


Flexible yet sturdy robot is designed to "grow" like a plant

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In today's factories and warehouses, it's not uncommon to see robots whizzing about, shuttling items or tools from one station to another. For the most part, robots navigate pretty easily across open layouts. But they have a much harder time winding through narrow spaces to carry out tasks such as reaching for a product at the back of a cluttered shelf, or snaking around a car's engine parts to unscrew an oil cap. Now MIT engineers have developed a robot designed to extend a chain-like appendage flexible enough to twist and turn in any necessary configuration, yet rigid enough to support heavy loads or apply torque to assemble parts in tight spaces. When the task is complete, the robot can retract the appendage and extend it again, at a different length and shape, to suit the next task.


Engaging the public in robotics: 11 tips from 5,000 robotics events across Europe

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Europe is focussed on making robots that work for the benefit of society. This requires empowering future roboticists and users of all ages and backgrounds. In its 9th edition, the European Robotics Week (#ERW2019) is expected to host more than 1000 events across Europe. Over the years, and over 5,000 events, the organisers have learned a thing or two about reaching the public, and ultimately making the robots people want. For many, robots are only seen in the media or science fiction.