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Arizona researchers developing robots that can learn

TEMPE, AZ – Most robots are programmed to carry out a specific function, but researchers in Arizona are now developing a new generation of machines that can learn new skills.

These teachable robots could change how we work and live.

Tossing a ball through a hoop might not seem like a complicated task but it is pretty impressive when you consider a  robot learned how to do it all by itself.

Learning Robots
Researchers are developing a new generation of machines that can learn new skills and the teachable robots could change how we work and live. (CBS News photo)

“We provided only the goal, we did not provide the way to achieve or the means to achieve that goal,” said Heni Ben Amor who is an Assistant Robotics Professor at Arizona State University.

He’s leading a team of researchers who are developing machines that can learn. Instead of being programmed to carry out a task the robots use “machine learning” — a combination of algorithms and sensors – that makes them teachable.

The robots can adapt and react to a situation – like when a robotic arm that tries to catch a ball by anticipating where it will be thrown.

Learning Robots
Most robots are programmed to carry out a specific function, but researchers are developing a new generation of machines that can learn new skills. (CBS News photo)

It doesn’t always get it right, “ideally the robot would not take a day or week for this, but rather a couple of hours,” Ben Amor stated.

The technology is helping developers design smarter robots. for example, one robot can learn the floor plan of a house or business and be taught to pick up misplaced items it finds. Researchers say a device like this could one day clean up your home.

Machine learning is also being adapted for medical use including a robotic prosthetic that can analyze the nuances of how its user walks and adjust as needed.

“It’s learning the relationships between the human and how it should react,” researcher Jeff Clark said.

Researchers believe the teachable tech will ultimately help both man and machine learn to interact.

-Chris Martinez reporting for CBS News

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