An Ice Cream-Serving Robot May Be a Huge A.I. Breakthrough

Analyzing the top news stories across the web
June 28 2014 7:00 AM

An Ice Cream-Serving Robot May Be a Huge A.I. Breakthrough

134260848-robotics-student-gildo-andreoni-interacts-with-a
A spark of understanding?

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

This post first appeared in Business Insider.

Robots need some very specific instructions in order to successfully accomplish tasks. If you want a robot to bring you a beer while you recline on the couch, it needs to know what a beer is, that a beer is in a refrigerator, what a refrigerator looks like, how to open said fridge, and so on. It's tedious!

Humans can't possibly provide all this context with a simple verbal request, so Ashutosh Saxena and researchers at Cornell University's Robot Learning Lab aim to help bridge this communication gap with a project called "Tell Me Dave."

Saxena's robot, equipped with a 3-D camera, scans its environment and identifies the objects in it, using computer vision software previously developed in Saxena's lab. The robot has been trained to associate objects with their capabilities: A pan can be poured into or poured from; stoves can have other objects set on them, and can heat things. So the robot can identify the pan, locate the water faucet and stove and incorporate that information into its procedure. If you tell it to "heat water" it can use the stove or the microwave, depending on which is available. And it can carry out the same actions tomorrow if you've moved the pan, or even moved the robot to a different kitchen.
Advertisement

Put another way, instead of hard-coding numerous processes that are effortless for a human but quite elaborate for robots (like grabbing a beer from the fridge), Saxena and crew have taught their PR2 bot to recognize various objects after being taught their traits. A microwave can be used to heat things, a bowl can hold water, a tap dispenses water, and so on. 

A quick verbal request to heat up a bowl of water, let's say, is now completely within a robot's purview despite the usually robot-beating lack of info associated with such a statement—a robot now "knows" how to fill in the steps missing from the request.

As a demonstration of this ability, the video below demonstrates a robot filling a rather open-ended ice cream order: "Take some coffee in a cup. Add ice cream of your choice. Finally, add raspberry syrup to the mixture." This is more or less how we imagine we'd speak to a robot in a sci-fi movie. It takes the robot some time, but soon enough: affogato!

Dylan Love is a writer for Business Insider. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.