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Germany’s Bielefeld University has developed a new robot hand grasp system that autonomously familiarizes itself with novel objects.

The new system works without knowing the characteristics of objects, such as pieces of fruit or tools. It was developed as part of the large-scale research project Famula at Bielefeld University’s Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC).

According to the researchers involved, the knowledge gained from this project could contribute to future service robots, for instance, that are able to independently adapt to working in new households. 

“Our system learns by trying out and exploring on its own – just as babies approach new objects,” says neuroinformatics Professor Dr. Helge Ritter, who heads the Famula project together with sports scientist and cognitive psychologist Professor Dr. Thomas Schack and robotics Privatdozent Dr. Sven Wachsmuth.

The interdisciplinary project brings together work in artificial intelligence (AI) with research from other disciplines. Thomas Schack’s research group, for instance, investigated which characteristics study participants perceived to be significant in grasping actions.

In one study, test subjects had to compare the similarity of more than 100 objects. “It was surprising that weight hardly plays a role. We humans rely mostly on shape and size when we differentiate objects,” says Thomas Schack.

In another study, test subjects’ eyes were covered and they had to handle cubes that differed in weight, shape, and size. Infrared cameras recorded their hand movements. Using color cameras and depth sensors, two monitors display how the system perceives its surroundings and reacts to instructions from humans.

“In order to understand which objects they should work with, the robot hands have to be able to interpret not only spoken language, but also gestures,” explains Sven Wachsmuth, of CITEC’s Central Labs. “And they also have to be able to put themselves in the position of a human to also ask themselves if they have correctly understood.”

Wachsmuth and his team have also given the system a face. Flobi is a stylized robot head that complements the robot’s language and actions with facial expressions. 

Image credit and source: Bielefeld University

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