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Berkeley developing ‘low-cost, human-friendly’ robot for the home

Berkeley University has unveiled what it describes as a “low-cost, human-friendly” robot which is capable of accommodating artificial intelligence. (See video below.)

In an article on the university’s website, “Blue”, which is a two-armed robot, is said to have been designed to use recent advances in artificial AI and deep reinforcement learning to master intricate human tasks.

And while it sounds advanced and sophisticated, Berkeley says Blue will remain affordable and safe enough for every AI researcher and every home to have one. 

Blue was developed by Peter Abbeel, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley, postdoctoral research fellow Stephen McKinley and graduate student David Gealy.

The team says it recognises that robotics has traditionally concentrated on industrial applications, but the Berkeley researchers are hoping Blue will accelerate the development of robotics for the home, and making the AI more accessible is key to this aim.

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Blue’s creators, Pieter Abbeel, David Gealy and Stephen McKinley. (Photo credit: Philip Downey)

Abbeel says: “AI has done a lot for existing robots, but we wanted to design a robot that is right for AI.

“Existing robots are too expensive, not safe around humans and similarly not safe around themselves – if they learn through trial and error, they will easily break themselves.

“We wanted to create a new robot that is right for the AI age rather than for the high-precision, sub-millimeter, factory automation age.”

McKinley says: “With a lower-cost robot, every researcher could have their own robot, and that vision is one of the main driving forces behind this project — getting more research done by having more robots in the world.”

Gealy says: “One of the things that’s really cool about the design of this robot is that we can make it force-sensitive, nice and reactive, or we can choose to have it be very strong and very rigid.

“Researchers can adjust how stiff the robot is, and what kind of stiffness — do you want it to feel like molasses? Do you want it to feel like a spring? A combination of those?

“If we want robots to move toward the home and perform in these increasingly unstructured environments, they are going to need that capability.”