Smart but Not AI
RoboSimian is an ape-like quadruped robot that can
walk or grasp using end-effectors with all four limbs. One
of the robots targeted to the famed DARPA challenge,
RoboSimian — like its close cousin, Surrogate — takes a
decidedly unconventional approach to considering its next
move and taking action.
"We don't use AI," said Brett Kennedy, Supervisor,
Robotic Vehicles and Manipulators Group, NASA JPL.
Robots with AI systems learn from their mistakes as they
think and act, recalculating as they work through time and
space. Unlike the recalculating GPS devices in those crazy
commercials that send their drivers crashing when turning
where a street should be but isn't, RoboSimian cannot
afford to make any mistakes to learn from.
Instead, RoboSimian's software works deterministically
such that its creators and operators know what the exact
output will be for any given input, commented Kennedy.
The RoboSimian approach to command and control
leverages a tightly-coupled relationship between a human
operator and what Kennedy calls “Supervised Autonomy” in
which the operator forwards or communicates a certain
intent of what the robot should do, and then using what
Kennedy calls fancy math, RoboSimian determines its best
plan for executing and carrying out that intent.
"When we want RoboSimian to turn a valve, for
example," said Kennedy, "the operator indicates the valve in
the scene and says ‘turn this thing,’ and then the robot
figures out how to move to grasp and turn the valve."
This enables the robot to be deliberate and stable, such
that it should not make any mistakes that would otherwise
happen based on what it does not yet know. "The
RoboSimian has three points of contact at all times; three
legs with a center of gravity inside that triangle that the
three joints make," explained Kennedy.
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With four arm/legs that walk, grasp, and bend every which way, with seven joints
per limb, the RoboSimian is the robotic equivalent of a vaudeville contortionist.
The JPL team behind RoboSimian