MIT creates Jenga-playing robot which can choose the safest block

News, Robots

It’s a problem that many of us have, especially after a few pints! But now scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a robot capable of analysing a Jenga tower and understanding the safest block to remove.

It is able to push blocks with different degrees of force and use the data it gets back to make a correct decision on how to physically interact with something to complete a task. Researchers say the tactile learning system at the heart of the device is a step forward for robotics.

Professor Alberto Rodriguez, from the department of mechanical engineering at MIT, said the technology could be especially useful on production lines.

He said: “In a cellphone assembly line, in almost every single step, the feeling of a snap-fit, or a threaded screw, is coming from force and touch rather than vision,” he said.

“Learning models for those actions is prime real-estate for this kind of technology.”

The researchers said the robot’s ability to quickly learn the best way to carry out a task, not just through visual cues, had been tricky to attain in previous systems.

Professor Rodriquez added: “Unlike in more purely cognitive tasks or games such as chess or Go, playing the game of Jenga also requires mastery of physical skills such as probing, pushing, pulling, placing, and aligning pieces.

“It requires interactive perception and manipulation, where you have to go and touch the tower to learn how and when to move blocks.

“This is very difficult to simulate, so the robot has to learn in the real world, by interacting with the real Jenga tower.

“The key challenge is to learn from a relatively small number of experiments by exploiting common sense about objects and physics.”

Chris Price
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