University in Arizona helping create smarter robots for your life

Teachable robots

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Most robots are programmed to carry out a specific function, but researchers in Arizona are now developing a new generation of machines that can learn new skills.

These teachable robots could change how people work and live.

Tossing a ball through a hoop might not seem like a complicated task. But it is pretty impressive -- when considering this robot learned how to do it all by itself.

"We provided only the goal, we did not provide the way to achieve or the means to achieve that goal," said Heni Ben Amor, an assistant robotics professor at Arizona State University.

Amor leads a team of researchers at ASU, where they are developing machines that can learn.

Instead of being programmed to carry out a task, the robot uses "machine learning -- a combination of algorithms and sensors -- that make them teachable."

The robots can adapt and react to a situation, like anticipating where to move to catch a thrown ball.

It doesn't always get it right.

"Ideally the robot would not take a day or week for this, but rather a couple of hours," Amor said.

The technology is helping developers design smarter robots.

Take for instance a robot that can learn the floor plan of a house or business and be taught to pick up misplaced items.

Researches said a device like this could one day clean up your home.

Machine learning is also being adapted for medical use.

A robotic prosthetic can analyze the nuances of how its user walks and adjust as needed.

"It's learning the relationships between the human and how it should react," said researcher Jeff Clark.

Researches believe the teachable tech will ultimately help both man and machine learn to interact.

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