Need Robots That Are Smart Enough To Ask For Help

Robotics and technology has gone a long way in helping mankind in every possible way, be it business, networking, computing or sensor technologies. These buildups lead to significant changes in all aspects of our lives. Work that would take hours by human hands now can be done in couple of minutes. Robots can do almost everything that a human can do but not think, act and decide in situations. In my opinion, one of the most important attributes of being smart is the ability to seek help when needed. This requires realizing that help is needed and getting the right kind of help from the right source.

Sometimes, robots spend a lot of their time not doing what we want them to do, situation worsens and it gets frustrating. Frustrating in the sense that the robots may stop all of a sudden and start their annoying beeps or in the worst case explode and ruin your work to a great extent. Well, some robots are designed to solve minor issues but in some cases they turn cold to act during an unseen circumstance. Clearly, if robots were to become smart, they will need to ask for help when they are unable to do a task.

Many research studies are aiming towards teaching a robot to understand its level of confidence and its ability to complete a task. If the robot’s level of confidence is low, rather than trying to complete the task and failing, it will instead call a human for help. The human can step in remotely, and through a simple interface, offer the robot a few tips to help it make sure of success.

Occasional robot failures can be tolerated. However, using humans to frequently clean up the mess created by robots is simply not a viable business model for using robots. Currently, deploying robots in industrial applications requires the reliability of robotic task execution to be very high. This is accomplished by designing specialized hardware and software. Extensive system testing is needed to ensure that potential failure modes are well understood and contingency plans are developed to handle them. Typically, task execution failures shut down the line and require human intervention to clear the fault and restart the line. This type of intervention is very expensive and hence robots are not used on a task until extremely high-level reliability can be achieved. Customized hardware and software costs can only be justified if the production volume is sufficiently high and tasks are repetitive.

In order to use robots in small production batch operations or non-repetitive tasks, we will need robots that are able to estimate the probability of task completion before beginning the task. This will enable robots to assess their own confidence in doing a task. If the robot does not have high confidence in completing a task, then it should call for help. This will enable human operators to provide the robot with needed assistance.

Recently in an effort University of Maryland Professor S. K. Gupta and his students have developed RoboSAM (ROBOtic Smart Assistant for Manufacturing), an industrial robot smart enough to know when something is wrong, to pause and to call a human for help.

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