New features for Simon include voice recognition, facial recognition, sound localization, and an overall increase in processing speed.
“I want to see robots successfully helping people in human environments, and in particular, I want those robots to be easy for people to adapt and use in whatever way they see fit,” said Thomaz in an interview with SmartPlanet. “You shouldn’t have to learn how to program your robot. It should be intuitive to teach it what you want it to do for you.”
Thomaz said her lab is currently working on Simon’s interactive learning skills, focusing on nonverbal gestures for natural and intuitive turn-taking, which she hopes will improve the learning interaction.
Movellan said his lab is also working on the theory of machine learning, or algorithms that allow for machines to learn from examples.
“Up to recently, robotics focused on applications to very structured conditions, like industrial fabrication plants. In such conditions, you can solve most of the theoretical problems—inverse kinematics, inverse dynamics, trajectory generation, trajectory control—analytically,” he said.
“That’s not the case when you need to operate in unstructured environments, like a classroom. In order to solve robot control problems analytically, I would have to have a perfect mathematical theory of how children behave. That is never going to happen. Instead, we need robots that learn to adapt to the environment in which they operate. This includes learning to interact with children, learning to teach, learning to move around a cluttered room, and much more.”
Although robotics might be taking off in many service sectors, including classrooms, developers and researchers say it’s important to understand that robots might never have the full capabilities of a human.
“Putting your heart into teaching, wanting to help your students and make them feel good about learning—that is not easily replicable by any kind of hardware,” said Jacob Whitehill, an MP Lab researcher, during an interview with UCSD News. “… I don’t think humans have to fear for their jobs just yet.”
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