“Firmly GRASP IT!”
Picking up and holding stuff is a pretty basic motor skill for us humans. Heck, even babies can do it. Robots, on the other hand, tend have a difficult time getting a firm grasp on something, at least in a quick, timely manner, and once they’re holding it, there’s not much they can do with it without further calculating. A research team at MIT may have figured out a way to fast track this process a bit.
MIT researchers have developed a new algorithm for their robotic manipulator that drastically speeds up its ability to grab and manipulate objects. It’s actually remarkably simple; instead of having the robot try to grab an object in a particular way or manipulate it while it’s being held, the robot grabs the object and pushes it against an immovable surface until it’s at the correct orientation. In this way, it was able to create a small lineup of letter blocks at remarkable speeds, with total manipulation time going down from as much as ten minutes to merely a few seconds.
This algorithm could be used in industrial robots to improve the speed and precision in their manipulation of tools, which would also facilitate the creation of modular robots that could work multiple tools at once. “Most factory robots that use tools have a specially designed hand, so instead of having the ability to grasp a screwdriver and use it in a lot of different ways, they just make the hand a screwdriver,” MIT graduate student Rachel Holladay explains. “You can imagine that requires less dexterous planning, but it’s much more limiting. We’d like a robot to be able to use and pick lots of different things up.”