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An algorithm that makes robots appear more human

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When you're a robot, a new motion-planning algorithm can mean the difference between waving your arms around like an inflatable tube man and reaching for a coffee mug like you're supposed to.

Case in point: this PR2 robot. The video up top demonstrates how much more efficiently the PR2 plots trajectories through space when guided by two new motion-planning algorithms developed at MIT.


According to researcher Matthew Walter, who helped develop one of the algorithms, refinements like these not only allow the robots to perform tasks more quickly and efficiently, they'll also help ease people's nerves when humans begin to interact with robots on a more regular basis.

"People are most comfortable," explains Walter, "when the robot behaves in a way that a human would."


The two algorithms that make up the new motion planning system are described in three papers, authored by researchers in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS).

The first two papers (available here and here, free of charge) were presented earlier this year.

The third (available here, also free of charge), which describes the combination of the two algorithms to produce the motion planning system you see applied in the video above, will be presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems later this month.

Video by Sertac Karaman