Robots need 'tough love' to learn best...
If You Want a Robot to Learn Better, Be a Jerk to It
When humans give robots “tough love” by trying to knock objects out of their hands, it actually helps them find the best ways to hold things.
In what will go down as one of the greatest robotics experiments ever, a few years back researchers in Japan let a robot loose in a mall and watched how kids reacted. Far from the sense of wonder you might expect from children, the mood soured into a sense of concern for the next generation, as the kids proceeded to kick and punch the robot and call it names.
Now, some critical caveats here. First of all, a simulation is a necessarily imperfect model of the real world—there’s no way to fully replicate all the physics and uncertainty of meatspace (or metalspace, in this case). So porting what a robot learns in simulation into a physical robotic arm is still very difficult, a challenge known as the reality gap. And two, this wasn’t willy-nilly tough love, as the human participants were working with certain rules and constraints.
All that said, the experiment shows there’s merit in challenging robots instead of constantly coddling them. This is particularly important with a problem as complex as grasping, which has little margin for error. “If we want robots to be out there helping people with different types of motor impairments, we don't want them to break things 10 percent of the time,” says Nikolaidis. Imagine unloading your dishwasher and dropping 10 percent of the dishes, and how mad you would be at yourself. Now imagine how mad you would be if a robot in your house did the same.