Train robots hands-on to dump trash with this new OS

Brain Corporation's BrainOS is designed to do away with complex programming to train robots to do specific tasks

Brain Corporation's bStem developer kit with BrainOS

Brain Corporation's bStem developer kit with BrainOS

Don't program robots -- train them. That's the stated goal of Brain Corporation, whose operating system is designed to allow robots to learn how to dump trash or open doors via hands-on training, not programming.

The Brain Operating System -- also called BrainOS -- injects a level of intelligence into robots that will allow them, like animals, to be given hands-on and visual training on how to perform home, service or industrial tasks, the company says.

Robots with BrainOS can be supervised through remote controls or other signals to "demonstrate explicitly the desired behavior," all without complex programming, the company says on its website.

"Alternatively, developers can observe the robot and reward the desired behavior, as if they were training an animal," Brain says.

If BrainOS works as designed, repetition will reinforce the process of how robots should conduct specific activities, just like it does for human brains. Programming sets strict rules on what activities a robot can do, Brain notes.

Robots with BrainOS could be trained to move around while not bumping into obstacles, and also to pick up and move items, according to the company. Robots could be trained for "yard maintenance, or cleaning up after pets," Brain says.

The techniques enabled by BrainOS would represent a change in training robots. Robots have been around for decades, but instructions still need to be programmed in. Traditional programming can be expensive, but Brain says its OS provides a more natural and easier way to train robots, by taking in sensory input and readings to manage robot hardware and behavior.

Company officials so far have not been available to discuss more specifically how BrainOS works. The company says, however, that the OS will be available in the fall, provided on a bStem developer board. The board has a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4-Pro processor, 15 sensors for visual, audio and other forms of sensory input, and an FPGA (field-programmable gate array) for robot control.

Brain, founded in 2009, is backed by Qualcomm, which is developing a chip called Zeroth that is designed to mimic the human brain, operating on neural computing principles. Zeroth may never be released, but technologies from its development are being used by Qualcomm in mobile chips. For example, some context and location awareness algorithms are being used in Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 800-series chips.

Brain has also received funds as part of the White House's US$100 million Brain Initiative to better understand the human brain.

Robots are catching the attention of major IT companies. Robotics companies are being snapped up by Amazon and Google. Amazon has plans to deliver packages using flying drones, and is testing drones in different shapes and sizes.

Robotics are also increasingly being used in schools as an interactive way to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Many robots -- like the PiBot -- are created by students using Arduino, an easy-to-learn hardware and software development platform to create robots or interactive electronic objects.

Intel later this year will ship its first 45-centimeter-tall robot called "Jimmy" for $1,500. Jimmy, which will be able to walk, has the Linux OS and can be programmed in the HTML5 scripting language, which is widely used for mobile apps. Smartphones, tablets and PCs will be able to control the robot, and Intel has said HTML5 is a new way to bring robotics into the mobile era.

The newer OSes and programming tools are trying to unseat the dominant Robotics Operating System (ROS), which was introduced in 2007. ROS is used in walking robots and a self-driving car.

In addition to BrainOS, Brain is including ROS in the development kit, given its popularity among robot makers.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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