Military-funded robots can learn by watching YouTube

So far, the robots are only teaching themselves to cook

University of Maryland computer scientist Yiannis Aloimonos (center) is helping robots such as Rethink Robotics' Baxter learn new skills by watching YouTube videos.

University of Maryland computer scientist Yiannis Aloimonos (center) is helping robots such as Rethink Robotics' Baxter learn new skills by watching YouTube videos.

Those fearing the rise of an all-powerful artificial intelligence like Skynet, take note: Robots are now learning by watching YouTube.

Depending on your views of the video-sharing service, that can be hilarious or frightening. But so far, the machines are just watching cooking videos, according to researchers backed by the U.S. Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA).

The computer scientists from the University of Maryland have succeeded in getting humanoid robots to reproduce what they see in a set of YouTube cooking clips, including recognizing, grabbing and using the right kitchen tools.

Part of DARPA's Mathematics of Sensing, Exploitation and Execution program, the research involves getting the machines to understand what's happening in a scene, not just recognizing objects within it.

More significantly, the machines were able to autonomously decide the most efficient combination of motions they observe to accomplish the task at hand.

"Cooking is complex in terms of manipulation, the steps involved and the tools you use," University of Maryland Computer Lab director Yiannis Aloimonos said in a posting on the University's website. "If you want to cut a cucumber, for example, you need to grab the knife, move it into place, make the cut and observe the results to make sure you did them properly."

For lower-level tasks involved in the cooking experiment, the team used convolutional neural networks (CNNs), which are learning frameworks based on biological models, to process the visual data. One CNN was for classifying hand grasp motions while another CNN was for object recognition.

On top of these, the robots classified the individual actions they saw into what the researchers describe as words in a sentence. The machines were then able to put the individual vocabulary units together into goal-oriented sentences.

The researchers recorded recognition accuracy of 79 percent on objects, 91 percent on grasping types and 83 percent on predicted actions, according to their paper on the experiment.

"The ability to learn actions from human demonstrations is one of the major challenges for the development of intelligent systems," Aloimonos and colleagues, including a researcher from the National Information Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence in Australia (NICTA), wrote in the paper, which doesn't discuss whether the robots reached the stage of actually being able to cook and whether their cooking is edible or not.

"Our ultimate goal is to build a self-learning robot that is able to enrich its knowledge about fine-grained manipulation actions by 'watching' demo videos."

The work was presented this week at a meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence in Austin, Texas.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags roboticsDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Hornyak

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?