James and Rosie, a lovely robotic couple at the Technical University of Munich, are well known for their delicious pancake and sausage breakfast rituals. Now their skills have expanded to include both sandwiches and popcorn. 

I hope you caught that little joke at 0:47 :)

Remember, none of these steps are pre-programmed. The robots are able to understand what steps go into something like making popcorn, and break those steps down into actions. Like, TUM's PR2 wasn't explicitly instructed to go turn the stove on and off: It just knew that popcorn requires using the stove, and that the stove needed to be turned on, so it did all the localization and navigation and manipulation of the stove controls all by itself.

The reason that this research is so important is that we don't want to have to be endlessly providing robots with instructions for every last thing that they're supposed to be doing. Giving robots the ability to take a complex task and autonomously infer all the intermediate tasks that it can then execute one at a time means that you'll be able to say, "Make me a sandwich" or "Do my laundry" or "Clean the house" or "You know what, go get everything done while I take a nap" and the robot will just go and do it, no questions asked.

If you're into this stuff as much as we are, you'll want to watch the 15 minute mostly real-time video (with echoey and accented narration), below.


The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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