Robots Learn Better with Tough Love

November 6, 2019 By IdeaConnection

Robot Tough LoveAccording to some parents, tough love is exactly what their children need to develop self-control and determination and become fully rounded individuals.

Likewise, some robot engineers say giving robots tough love will help them learn better.

Researchers at the University of Southern California have demonstrated that when humans give robots tough love by knocking objects out of their hand, it helps them discover the best ways to hold things.

The scientists carried out their experiments in a simulation; they weren't actually beastly to a free-standing mechanical wonder.

In this digital environment, there is a simulated robot arm as well as several variables such as friction. The arm continually tries to grasp an object using different grips until it eventually stumbles on a good grip. With this trial and error approach, it learns what makes a good grip. 

Here Comes the Tough Love

But success is short-lived because in comes a digital form of a human adversary. A human uses a graphical interface to click on the object the robot is gripping and apply a force in a particular direction. This disturbance tests the robot, and it has to adjust to rule out less effective grips.

"The robot learned to grasp objects much more robustly using this additional signal that the human was providing, but also learned to generalize to new objects much better," said USC roboticist Stefanos Nikolaidis, a co-author on a new paper describing the work. 

"To put a number on it, when a human was giving the robot tough love, the machine had a 52 per cent success rate at grasping, compared to 26.5 per cent without the tough love."

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