Google X Robots Learning To Be Useful
Written by Sue Gee   
Sunday, 21 November 2021

More than 100 Everyday Robots have been introduced into some of Google's Bay Area campuses where they are being used to tidy chairs in meeting rooms and wipe refectory tables.

It's a long time since we've heard from Google X - Alphabet's "moonshot factory" founded in 2010 with Sebastian Thrun as one of its co-founders, but it has been quietly making progress on several projects, including the Everyday Robot Project, led by Google X Chief Robot Officer, Hans Peter Brøndmo.

We also have to acknowledge an error in our most recent mention of Google X, Boston Dynamics & Shaft Sold To SoftBank when Google divested itself of its two big name robotics companies that had been acquired under Andy Rubin's leadership of the "Replicant" project, as Google X's foray into robotics was called. Harry Fairhead commented that this sale probably marked the end of this endeavour. We were wrong Google X has quietly continued to work on robotics and is now ready for its Everyday Robots to move out of the labs and start to work alongside humans.

Ever since the concept originated, the dream is that robots will be useful in our everyday lives, taking over the tedious chores and the heavy lifting involved in housework and office cleaning. This seems to be what Brøndmo is trying to achieve. He writes on the X company blog:

We imagine a world where robots work alongside us, making everyday tasks — like sorting trash, wiping tables in cafes, or tidying chairs in meeting rooms — easier. In a more distant future, we imagine our robots helping us in a myriad of ways, like enabling older people to maintain their independence for longer. We believe that robots have the potential to have a profoundly positive impact on society and can play a role in enabling us to live healthier and more sustainable lives. While our imagined world is still a long way off, results from our recent experiments suggest that we may just be on track to one day make this future a reality.

Sorting waste is a task that the Everyday Robots have been performing and now the same robots have been equipped with a squeegee to wipe tables.everydayrobot1OK - a robot that can wipe empty tables is hardly impressive - but the approach that Brøndmo's team is now using does suggest that robots may one day be more versatile. The breakthrough is that whereas most robots are pre-programmed to complete specific tasks, the Everyday Robot project has collaborated with Google AI with the result that Everyday Robots learn how to perform tasks using a combination of machine learning techniques like reinforcement learning, collaborative learning, and learning from demonstration. 

As Brøndmo puts it:

We believe that for robots to be helpful in the unstructured and unpredictable spaces where we live and work, they can't be programmed: they have to learn.


More Information

Everyday robots are (slowly) leaving the lab

The Everyday Robot Project

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 21 November 2021 )