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This Robot Teaches Itself How To Help People Get Dressed

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Left to right: Zackory Erickson, a PR2 robot, and Charlie Kemp. The robot at Georgia Institute of Technology is successfully helping people get dressed through simulations. Rather than relying on the sense of sight, the robot uses its sense of touch to perform the task.  ( Georgia Institute of Technology )

Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology are working on a robot that uses neural network technology to help people get dressed.

The robot learned how to do this after analyzing a large number of simulated examples of a robot performing the same task.

The PR2 Robot

According to the researchers, the PR2 machine taught itself how to dress people in only 24 hours. Within that time frame, the machine managed to examine around 11,000 examples of a robot performing the task of putting a hospital gown onto a human arm.

Some of the examples that the machine analyzed were very successful, said the researchers, while others weren't. Based on this analysis, the machine's neural network then managed to use these scenarios to help itself learn what actions to avoid by calculating the physical pressures applied to the human arm.

Using Simulations To Perform The Task

The simulated examples provided by the researchers enabled the robot to understand how it feels like to be on the receiving end --as the human getting dressed. Rather than relying on vision, the robot relies on the sense of pressure it feels while it pulls the gown and places it gently on the arm.

"People learn new skills using trial and error. We gave the PR2 the same opportunity," said Zackory Erickson, the lead Georgia Tech Ph.D. student on the research team. "Doing thousands of trials on a human would have been dangerous, let alone impossibly tedious. But in just one day, using simulations, the robot learned what a person may physically feel while getting dressed."

Predicting Different Movements

In addition to the simulations, the robot is also capable of anticipating the possible outcomes of each action it can perform. Because it can understand what the recipient feels, the machine asks itself some questions about what would happen if it moves a certain way.

Over a million people in the United States need a hand to get dressed because of an injury, disease or advanced age. The technology could be very useful for this purpose. However, the robot, as of now, can only place a gown onto one arm in around 10 seconds. The researchers said they still have a long way to go to get to the point where the robot will be able to dress a person fully.

Watch the video of PR2 sliding a hospital gown on a human arm below.

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