Saturday, 13 June 2015

Damaged Robot Can 'Heal' Itself in Less Than 2 Minutes

by Charles Q. Choi, Live Science Contributor 

Robots that adapt like animals could "heal" themselves and continue functioning even after they are damaged.

Robots that are damaged in action can now quickly "heal" themselves by tapping into experiences from simulated lives, according to a new study. It may sound like science fiction, but these abilities could lead to more robust, effective and autonomous robots, researchers say.
In experiments, a six-legged robot could adapt in little more than a minute to keep walking even if two of its legs were damaged, broken or missing. A robotic arm could also learn to place an object in the correct place even with several broken motors or joints.
"One thing we were surprised by was the extent of damage to which the robots could quickly adapt to.
Adaptable bots
Robots can survive extreme environments such as the deepest depths of the ocean or the harsh vacuum of outer space. However, a major obstacle that has kept robots from widespread adoption outside factories is their lack of adaptability — they typically cannot keep working if they become damaged.
In contrast, animals often can adapt rapidly from injuries. For instance, many three-legged dogs can catch Frisbees (a concave plastic disc designed for skimming through the air as an outdoor game or amusement), and humans can often quickly figure out how to walk despite sprained ankles or other injuries.
"If we send in robots to
find survivors after an earthquake,
or to put out forest fires,
or to shut down a nuclear plant
in crisis, we need them to be able to keep working if they become damaged. In such situations, every second counts, and robots are likely to become damaged because these environments are very unpredictable and hostile. Even in less extreme cases, such as in-home robot assistants that help the elderly or sick, we want robots to keep performing their important tasks even if some of their parts break.
Until now, robots typically recovered from damage by
first diagnosing their problems
and then choosing which contingency plan to follow. However, even if a robot possesses an expensive suite of sensors with which it can diagnose itself, it will be rendered helpless if its designer failed to foresee whatever problem the robot is facing.
Now scientists have developed a trial-and-error program that enables robots to adapt to damage in less than two minutes, all without a suite of sensors to diagnose itself or a host of contingency plans.

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