MIT Robot Learns To Move Around Crowded Places

Posted: Sep 1 2017, 7:55am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
MIT Robot Learns to Move around Crowded Places
Credit: MIT

Researches hav developed a small robot that is learning how to move among humans

Robots are getting more and more humanlike. One day they could be able to move among humans without getting in their way and smootly navigate crowded places. But to do that they have to understand the pedestrian behavior.

Now, engineers at MIT are teaching a robot to gain mastery over one of the most challenging aspects of being human: socially aware navigation. The small autonomous robot is learning to keep pace with foot traffic while observing the general, unwritten rules of pedestrian conduct.

“Socially aware navigation is a central capability for mobile robots operating in environments that require frequent interactions with pedestrians. For instance, small robots could operate on sidewalks for package and food delivery. Similarly, personal mobility devices could transport people in large, crowded spaces, such as shopping malls, airports, and hospitals.” Lead researcher Yu Fan “Steven” Chen, who is also the former MIT graduate student said.

In the tests performed inside MIT’s Stata Center, the robot not only successfully avoided collisions but it also moved smoothly alongside humans in crowded open spaces. The robot uses off-the-shelf sensors, such as webcams, a depth sensor and a high-resolution lidar sensor for recognizing its surroundings. For controlled movement, the robot carries open-source algorithms. These algorithms allow it to map the environment and to determine its position.

The most difficult part of the process was enabling robot to adapt to the unpredictability of human nature. People do not follow a strict pattern while walking on the streets and other places. In such an unpredictable environment, robots can collide with people or being pushed around.

When should a robot take its turn? How do they use sidewalks or parking spots? How should they overall behave in crowds? These questions are crucial if robots navigate streets or move around real environments.

To solve this problem, researchers enabled the robot to assess its environment and adjust its path, every one-tenth of a second.

“We’re not planning an entire path to the goal – it doesn’t make sense to do that anymore, especially if you’re assuming the world is changing,” said co-author Michael Everett.

“Crowds have a different dynamic than individual people, and you may have to learn something totally different if you see five people walking together.”

By learing pedestrian conduct, robots can be a part of ecosystems where humans and robot coexist.

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