Robot Designed To Break First Law - In Order To Save It

Researcher Sami Haddadin designed and programmed a robot to punch him right in the face. When that wears thin, the robot is free to punch him in the arm, the stomach and the chest.


(Sami Haddadin punched by his own robot)

As science fiction fans know, Isaac Asimov (in collaboration with John W. Campbell) created and popularized the idea of "laws of robotics" in his robot fiction of the early 1940's. The First Law of Robotics states that "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

Haddadin is not some sort of rogue roboticist. He is part of a team at the German Aerospace Centre Space Agency; their task is to figure out ways for robots and humans to share the same work space. And to do that, robots need to be able to sense when they have contacted a human being.

Haddadin has given his robot a kinaesthetic sense similar to the ability that humans possess. A person has stretch receptors in their muscles and joints that provide information to the brain when a muscular movement has been unexpectedly interrupted.

Haddadin embedded torque sensors in each of the six joints of the robot. The sensors consist of metal foil devices that change their electrical resistance when under tension in a given direction. They provide constant feedback to the robot on the direction and magnitude of forces.

That's when the punching began. He equipped the robot arm with a padded end-piece (sort of like a boxing glove) to cushion the blows, which came at speeds of up to eight feet per second.

As soon as the robot was able to sense that its arm no longer had free movement (that is, it contacted Haddadin's body), it stopped the movement immediately. The robot pulls its punches, and can be pushed away with only a minimum amount of pressure on the end-piece.

The robot is also sensitive to unexpected touches; a human co-worker could push the robot away to prevent a collision. The robot accepts this as a kind of guidance from co-workers.

The robot is also able to determine when it has bumped into a person. It is able to respond to this with a gentle push that signals "please get out of my way" to the human co-worker.

A commercial version of the robot arm will be launched next year by Kuka Roboter of Augsburg, Germany.

Via EurekAlert.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/9/2007)

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