This robot can operate on my fridge!

New software developed by Carnegie Mellon University helps mobile robots deal efficiently with clutter, whether it is in the back of a refrigerator or on the surface of the moon. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University Personal Robotics Lab

I guess your fridge is spick and span with all groceries, meat, cheese and whatever nicely disposed on the shelves. This is exactly what a robot would need if it were asked to pick up a milk pack and bring it to the table. 
Robots are good in picking up stuff and putting down stuff (known as P&P process, Pick and Place) as long as they know exactly where it is and the "stuff" is not mixed with other "stuff", robots don't like clutter.

Well, that is exactly what they would be confronted with if they were to look for something in my fridge back home. It actually takes me quite some search-time to find something and it is not unusual that I have to ask Laura, my wife, where a certain "stuff" has been hidden (she claims its me, both generating the clutter and not being able to find stuff, but just among us, sometimes she is also at loss in finding "stuff").

Now a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon have developed an algorithm that a robot can use to operate in a cluttered world. They called it "push and shove" algorithm, since now the robot has to move stuff around to isolate what it is looking for.

What is amazing is that once a robot is equipped with this algorithm it can work in a cluttered work more efficiently than us!  In experiments, the robotic wrist could rotate 270°, much more than our own wrist, and this gave the robot an advantage that led to different push and shove strategies than the ones we use. Nobody taught the new strategies to the robot, it learnt by itself surprising the researchers conducting the experiment.
Actually to believe it I need to see a robot fetching a piece of cheese wrapped in a paper that used to be wrapping some "prosciutto" carefully hidden under a bag of salad...

Author - Roberto Saracco

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