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

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The Ludicrous Claims Women Are Pitched at “Egg Freezing Parties”

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 AM Syria’s “Moderate” Rebels Are Realizing That U.S. Airstrikes Help Bashar al-Assad, Not Them
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:43 AM “I Didn’t Want to Build the Next Twitter for Cats” Search funds are the quiet, dependable, risk-averse sibling to the startup. 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 11:59 AM Ask a Homo: A Lesbian PDA FAQ
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 10:44 AM Everyone’s Favorite Bob’s Burgers Character Gets a Remix You Can Dance to
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 AM Watch a Crowd Go Wild When Steve Jobs Moves a Laptop in This 1999 Demonstration of WiFi
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.