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MM Blog: Using Animals To Train Robots

A look at a simpler way for non-engineers to program a robot.

Robots are already revolutionizing many aspects of life β€” particularly manufacturing. But although engineers continue to develop more and more sophisticated robots, it will largely be up to the general public to implement them in the future. Scientists from Washington State University, North Carolina State University and Brown University are working on a solution for the layperson who might not know how to program an expensive, complicated robot. They designed a computer program that enabled humans to teach a virtual robot β€” a computer-animated dog β€” by either reinforcing desired behavior or correcting an improper action.

By varying the reaction time of the virtual animal, researchers were able to help the humans identify what to do, and an algorithm also allowed the dog to comprehend what the human meant by a lack of feedback. Gradually, the virtual dog sped up its task as it received more positive feedback and gained confidence. Researchers are already working with physical robots in hopes of teaching them with techniques borrowed from animal behaviorists. And they suspect that it also could help people become more effective animal trainers.


Could the same techniques that teach Fido to sit train a robot how to weld metal or package products? Is this the next step in the increasingly automated manufacturing sector?

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