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Teach Your Robot to Do the Dishes


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A robot arm assists in washing dishes.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a robot arm that can assist people washing dishes.

Credit: John Malta

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) have developed a robot that can help people wash the dishes.

The team taught a Kinova Mico robot arm to mimic a human handing plates from a drying rack to another person to stack on shelves after watching a handful of examples, using a Kinect sensor to track the speed and position of their arms. The algorithm predicted when a user was ready for the next dish with an accuracy of more than 90 percent. The team then programmed the robot to respond with three different strategies: working as fast as it could, sometimes waiting until the receiver was completely finished with a dish before passing the next plate, and adaptively tracking humans by slowing and pausing. Users preferred working with the intuitive system over others and said they valued the user experience.

"There's a trade-off between team performance and user experience," says UWM professor Bilge Mutlu. "Users want to interact with robots at their own pace, as opposed to maximizing efficiency."

He believes robots will eventually help unload groceries, hand human workers parts for assembly, and guide patients through physical rehab exercises.

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