Fast healthcare robot now closer thanks to new computer model

A robot that whips up a cup of coffee or tea in a jiffy is no longer the realm of science fiction. Psychologists and computer scientists have developed a model that codes how people perform these activities. The model is 500 times faster than earlier programmes.

Inspired by the human brain

Computer models already existed for these sorts of household tasks, but they are complex and laborious, according to Leiden researcher Roy de Kleijn. 'Robots were able to perform these tasks only after a long process of trial and error. The new model requires 500 times fewer examples than earlier models, thanks to the new feedback loop, inspired by the human brain. The robot immediately receives information about its actions, giving it the chance to modify them and thereby enabling it to exhibit the desired behaviour.'

In the next phase, the researchers want to incorporate the programme into this robot, which goes by the name of Willow Garage PR2. The robot will also be quicker at making pancakes.

In the next phase, the researchers want to incorporate the programme into this robot, which goes by the name of Willow Garage PR2. The robot will also be quicker at making pancakes.

Publication

De Kleijn developed the model together with Leiden Professor of General Psychology Bernhard Hommel and three foreign researchers. Their findings were published on 29 September in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Mimicking the neocortex

Roy de Kleijn

Roy de Kleijn

The model has been tested with a simulation programme. In the next phase the researchers want to actually incorporate the programme into a robot. In the healthcare sector, robots are already being used to vacuum the floor or assist with operations. When will we see a robot on the market that can make a cup of tea? 'It's going to be a while yet. Five years from now we may have a robot that is good at performing a single specific task like that. But a household robot really only becomes interesting when it can perform a variety of tasks. And it will take years to get to that point.'


Healthcare robot

'A healthcare robot really only becomes interesting if it can perform a variety of tasks.'

'A healthcare robot really only becomes interesting if it can perform a variety of tasks.'

The model has been tested with a simulation programme. In the next phase the researchers want to actually incorporate the programme into a robot. In the healthcare sector, robots are already being used to vacuum the floor or assist with operations. When will we see a robot on the market that can make a cup of tea? 'It's going to be a while yet. Five years from now we may have a robot that is good at performing a single specific task like that. But a household robot really only becomes interesting when it can perform a variety of tasks. And it will take years to get to that point.'


Kachergis, G., Wyatte, D., O'Reilly, R. C., de Kleijn, R., & Hommel, B. (2014). A continuous time neural model for sequential action. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

This research is part of a collaborative arrangement between Leiden University and researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Conference 'Trust in robots'

Roy de Kleijn will be speaking at the U-meet conference ‘Trusting in robots’ to be held on 2 October in the Hague. Robots are already being used in the healthcare sector, and their use is only due to increase. What sorts of ethical, technical and social issues are posed by this development? At this conference talks will be given by academics from Leiden University, TU Delft and Erasmus University. Participation is free of charge.


(30 September 2014)

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Last Modified: 01-10-2014