We've reported on some research being done to help humans and robots work together by helping robots recognize human gestures. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a different algorithm to help robots adapt to humans in factory settings by predicting what they will do next.
The researchers envision robots and humans working side by side, instead of walling off robots in metal cages while humans work on fine-tuned tasks in less dangerous areas. Robots that work in isolation perform repetitive tasks by following a set of preprogrammed instructions. Working with people is much more complicated -- it requires robots to predict each individual's actions.
The MIT team, headed by Julie Shah, Boeing Career Development assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, devised an algorithm that lets robots adapt quickly to individual styles and preferences for completing a certain task.
Professor Julie Shah with graduate students Ron Wilcox, center, and Matthew Gombolay coordinate human-robotic interaction while developing an algorithm that lets factory robots predict humans' movements.
(Source: William Litant/MIT)
In aircraft manufacturing, human workers do a lot of walking around and picking up parts to carry to the plane. That may be good exercise, but from an efficiency standpoint, it's idle time. If robots could deliver the parts to the humans, that idle time would be reduced considerably. "It's really hard to make robots do careful refinishing tasks that people do really well," Shah said in an MIT press release. "But providing robotic assistants to do the non-value-added work can actually increase the productivity of the overall factory."
Shah leads the Interactive Robotics Group in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. She chose spar assembly (building the main structural element of an aircraft's wing) as a test case. The steps involved in this process seem predictable. Two pieces of the wing are aligned. A mechanic applies sealant to predrilled holes, hammers bolts into the holes, and wipes off any excess sealant.