The Toyota Research Institute is developing domestic robots capable of cleaning and choring a house or apartment using artificial intelligence. A virtual visit of the laboratories allowed us to discover several stunning prototypes …
For robots, working in the structured environment of a warehouse by performing repetitive tasks is easy. On the other hand, do housework and chores in the relative chaos of a house or one in an apartment is a whole different story …
The challenge that researchers at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) have set for themselves is to create a new generation of domestic robots and train them to maintain a home using artificial intelligence.
To achieve their goal, the Toyota researchers adopted a typically Japanese philosophy. The team has made the choice to prioritize the user experience, to adopt a human-centered design.
Scientists have reverted to the "ikigai" concept, according to which every person's life must have a real purpose and deep meaning. Thus, rather than developing a generalist and excessively versatile robot, the institute seeks to create various robots capable of performing tasks that have become too complex for the elderly.
To determine the best way to think about domestic robots, TRI researchers also adopted the research technique "Genchi genbustu" which can be translated as "will see for yourself" .
Before the start of the COVID-19 crisis, experts have visited private homes across Japan to try to understand the difficulties faced by older people and their caregivers. The goal was to identify precisely the tasks for which these people would want the help of a robot.
According to Steffi Paepcke, the institute's senior user experience leader, the goal of the project is to amplify human capacities while allowing people to continue to perform tasks and activities that they find fun and meaningful. To his eyes, " a fully automated food processor could be physically useful but emotionally harmful ".
These visits notably enabled researchers to understand that there is generally no not enough room on the floor of a house to allow a robot to move. So they decided to give their domestic robots the ability to move on the ceiling.
To teach robots how to clean, researchers used virtual reality. First, a researcher performed a task in VR to teach the robot to do the same.
Toyota offers a virtual tour of the laboratories of its research institute
Thanks to these innovative approaches, the result of the project is simply stunning. This week, several journalists were invited by Gill Pratt, CEO of TRI, to a virtual tour of the institute's laboratories.
In particular, they were able to discover one of the prototypes developed by researchers at Toyota. This robot is similar to a crane that deploys from the ceiling to help with housework. Another model, posed on the ground, looks like a praying mantis perched on a box.
However, according to TRI's robotics vice president Max Bajracharya, the main purpose of these prototypes is to speed up research. They will not be marketed as products.
In another laboratory, located on the TRI campus in Cambridge, many robots train themselves to clean mountains of dirty dishes. The goal is to train them to place plates and cutlery in the dishwasher while throwing out the waste.
Cameras transmit their data to deep learning algorithms to allow robots to understand what they see. The challenge is to manage to provide enough data to a robot so that he can face an unprecedented situation.
There are still many challenges to overcome before we can market domestic robots. For example, it is necessary to teach machines to distinguish between different surfaces such as wood, glass and plastic.
Additionally, according to Jeremy Ma, who leads the institute's Robotics Fleet Learning team, there is a need to enable robots to learn from each other quickly. Theidea of "fleet learning" would allow a robot to share the skills it acquires with others.
Toyota is firmly focused on the future, and seeks to put robotics and artificial intelligence at the service of humans. During the CES in January 2020, the Japanese firm unveiled its own smart city located at the pid of Mount Fuji, the Woven City, where the products and services developed by the TRI will be tested …