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Teaching robots to talk to each other

MIT Technology Review takes a look at work by Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University enabling two types of robots with very different capabilities to communicate.

They are proving to be much more efficient as well as cheaper, as not every robot has to be made to do every task well.

 The engineers aim was to develop a system where one robot’s strengths could make up for the other’s shortcomings by working together.

The robots talk wirelessly, using a common domain language to convey events as they occur, and, crucially, they also provide feedback to each other, which allows them to work together even when things don’t go exactly as planned. When the two robots coӧrdinate, they have three options for deciding what to do next: one robot can tell the other robot to wait until a certain moment to act; one can instruct the other to repetitively carry out the same activity until a particular moment; or one robot can simply ask the other what to do.

Researchers say this is a genuine “conversation” as “the robots can adjust to each other and optimise their work”.

The development is a step forward from previous communications systems that have  have either involved robots of the same type, or robots acting in fixed scenarios.

The trick to adaptive, diverse robot teams is to have the bots interact sparingly, says Veloso. The individual robots work independently until they absolutely must interact to complete a task, leaving fewer opportunities for mistakes and providing more flexibility.The Baxter robot’s arm delivers a candy to the CoBot mobile robot

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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