Robot learns to cook pizza by watching videos on the internet
European researchers aim to see home robots performing tasks for humans without the need for programming
If the robots ever actually do rise up and take our jobs, we may only have ourselves to blame — at least those of us who share information about how to perform specific human tasks online.
This specific bot is one of several being used by a multifaceted team of European researchers who aim to enable robots "to competently perform everyday human-scale manipulation activities, both in human working and living environments."
Launched in 2012, the EU-funded initiative is called the RoboHow project and involves researchers from at least nine universities across Europe.
The team's ultimate vision is to see home and office robots performing tasks like cooking and cleaning for people, but its focus thus far has been on the very necessary task of teaching machines how to learn these things first — with instructions written in human language.
"Instead of programming a robot to perform precise movements, the goal is for a person to simply tell a robot what to do," reads a piece published in the MIT Technology Review earlier this week."So the researchers behind the RoboHow project want to teach robots the general knowledge required to turn high-level instructions into specific actions."
To do this, RoboHow's machines have been gleaning information from popular (and sometimes unintentionally hilarious) tutorial sites like WikiHow.
That's right, robots are now cruising the internet for recipes, just like you.
It's not as easy as learning the ingredients and steps involved in making pancakes, however.
"Humans amass a certain amount of general knowledge from just getting on with their lives—we don't need to be taught how to hold a spatula or a frying pan, as we've held similarly shaped objects before," explained Quartz. "A robot, on the other hand, needs to be taught everything, from the correct grip and right angle to hold a spatula, to opening a bottle, to what a pancake even is."
To learn these skills, RoboHow's bots view web videos, observe human movement, and participate in haptic demonstrations.
Once they're sufficiently trained, they are able to share the knowledge with other robots in machine-readable language through an online database called Open Ease (or, as Business Insider puts it, a "Wikipedia for robots.")
They can even share knowledge from Open Ease to collaborate on projects, as a PR2 robot recently did with another bot called Boxy at the the Institute for Artifical Intelligence at the University of Bremen in Germany, where RoboHow is based.
"Raphael, the PR2 robot, was in charge of fetching and bringing tools and ingredients to Boxy, who manipulated the pizza dough, and added the pizza ingredients," reads a description of the experiment on open-ease.org. "After the robots were finished, a person comes into the scene, and places the tray with the pizza into the oven for baking it."
Reaction online to the news of self-learning chef bots shows that some people are a bit spooked by the project, but the concept isn't entirely a far out one given how many of our tasks are already automated by machines.
As VICE notes, "while this development sounds like the peaceful beginning scene of a sci-fi movie plots in which robots eventually become too intelligent, overthrow their human captors, and kill everybody, for now it's just another milestone in our civilization's race to automate pretty much everything that we used to have to do ourselves."