We humans are already kind of afraid of robots, so here's a good idea: what if we make them trip balls and hallucinate imaginary people everywhere? Seems like it would drive them to madness and make them turn on us even faster, but researchers at Cornell University's Robot Learning Lab think it will make them better at their jobs.
The researchers had already successfully taught their bots how to place objects in a space with correct orientation to their function and how they are generally placed in relationship to other objects (see video), but this work didn't go far enough. It's great that it can place a laptop right side up, but not so great if the robot places it on top of a bookshelf where a human couldn't reach it. So the next step was to teach the robots how to orient objects to the way the humans actually use them. To do that they learned a set of "human poses," and then they hallucinate them all over the room.
After observing, the robots really started to get it down. Humans sit on the couch, facing the TV, which faces the couch. The remote control is within arm's reach, not on the floor by their feet. When combining human orientation with the previous object-to-object orientation work they had done, they found that accuracy of placement had been boosted to 86 percent (subjectively), which is pretty impressive for a bunch of tripping robots.
The work certainly still has a ways to go, but this is major progress. It could eventually lead to a bot that would not only pick up after you, but also rearrange a room in a more ergonomic, intuitive way. Speaking as a walking/talking organizational nightmare, the days of hallucinating robots can't come soon enough, as long as they don't just sit around watching the walls pulse and breathe. [Cornell University Chronicle via Kurzweil AI]