CoBots - Collaborative Robots Ask Humans For Help

Autonomous robots have come a long way, but CMU computer scientists have a strategy to stretch the capabilities of robots. When a CoBot gets stuck in performing a task—when it needs to call an elevator, pick up an object, or find something that’s missing—it will ask the nearest human for help. If no one is nearby, a Cobot will even send out an office-wide e-mail asking for help.


(CoBots - Collaborative Robots)

Short for 'collaborative robot,' these futuristic service robots can go to a requested location, transport items between locations, and guide people. The CoBot robots autonomously plan to respond to task requests, execute their plans by moving accurately and safely, and follow what [Manuela Veloso, Herbert A Simon Professor of Computer Science at CMU] calls novel symbiotic autonomy.

Symbiotic autonomy refers to the idea that while a CoBot can navigate autonomously in indoor environments, it is aware of its perceptual, cognitive and actuation limitations. CoBots, which are armless laptops on wheels, will ask nearby humans for help when stymied, such as when pressing elevator buttons or picking up objects.

Currently, three CoBots offer their help in the Gates and Hillman centers while one works in another nearby space...

"Our project is really unique in terms of the true deployment of mobile robots. Under the remarkable work of my students, in particular Joydeep Biswas, Brian Coltin and Stephanie Rosenthal, the CoBot robots have autonomously navigated in the Gates Hillman Centers for more than 400 kilometers," she noted.

Veloso and her team have big plans for their CoBots.

"There are many scientific issues still left to address," Veloso explained. The ongoing research continues to address the increasing in robustness to varied, dynamic environments such as corridor versus open areas, dark/bright areas more or less crowded areas; interaction with people such as speaking, conversing or learning; and task performance using multiple robots, object manipulation, and task interruption.

This collaboration with robots was noted in Harry Harrison's 1956 short story The Velvet Glove, in which robots held virtually all jobs:

"... whenever a robot finds something it can't identify straight off... it puts whatever it is in the hopper outside your window. You give it a good look, check the list for the proper category if you're not sure, then press the right button and in she goes."

An hour passed before he had his first identification to make. A robot stopped in mid-dump, ground its gears a moment, and then dropped a dead cat into Carl's hopper... Something heavy had dropped on the cat, reducing the lower part of its body to paper-thinness.

Castings... Cast Iron... Cats... There was the bin number. Nine.
(Read more about humans helping robots)

I should also mention Ava learning software from The Calcutta Chromosome, a 1995 novel by Amitav Ghosh. In the story, Ava is an artificial intelligence program that has human help in identifying objects:

Antar had met children who were like that: Why? What? When? Where? How? But children asked because they were curious; with these AVA/Iie systems it was something else - something that he could only think of as a simulated urge for self-improvement. ..

She wouldn't stop until Antar had told her everything he knew about whatever it was that she was playing with on her screen…

Update: One of the examples of fictional robots working with people from my childhood - Uniblab socializing and working with George Jetson circa 1962.


Uniblab works with George Jetson)

End update.

Via CMU and CoBot Robots and Technology Review.

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