February 20, 2024

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MIT: AI Empowers Robots in Complex Environments

Robotic Process Automation (RPA), or robotic process automation, is software technology designed to automatically execute repetitive tasks and processes typically performed by humans. While RPA has brought several advantages in improving efficiency and reducing the workload for routine tasks, its development still faces some challenges, especially regarding the limitations in robot movement.

Current robots are still restricted in their movement capabilities and adapting to complex tasks requiring high precision and multi-level motion coordination. Although RPA has successfully handled simple and repetitive tasks, jobs that require a deeper understanding of context, situation-based decision-making, and complex interactions remain challenging.

Image credits: news.mit.edu

Efforts are continually being made to enhance the underlying artificial intelligence (AI) of RPA to tackle more complex tasks. The development of algorithms and machine learning models focuses on providing better adaptability and context understanding to robots. It is expected that RPA will become a more effective solution for handling various tasks involving higher levels of complexity.

MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) researchers have developed the “Graphs of Convex Sets (GCS) Trajectory Optimisation” algorithm, offering a scalable, collision-free motion planning system for robotic navigation. This innovative approach combines graph search and convex optimisation, efficiently finding paths through complex environments while optimising robot trajectories.

The GCS algorithm, capable of mapping collision-free trajectories in up to 14 dimensions, demonstrates significant potential for improving collaborative robot operations in warehouses, libraries, and households.

The CSAIL-led project consistently outperforms comparable planners, demonstrating GCS’s efficiency in planning complex paths quickly. In demonstrations, the system adeptly guided two robotic arms holding a mug around a shelf, optimising for the shortest time and path.

The synchronised motion resembled a partner dance routine, showcasing the algorithm’s ability to navigate around obstacles without dropping objects. Real-world tests, such as swapping positions of items and handing objects between robots, highlight the algorithm’s potential in manufacturing and household tasks.

The success of GCS in addressing real-world challenges emphasises its potential in various domains, including manufacturing and household tasks, where coordinated robot movements are essential. Unlike traditional sampling-based algorithms, GCS leverages fast convex optimisation, efficiently coordinating multiple robots in high-dimensional spaces.

The algorithm’s capability to adapt to configurations within pre-computed convex regions allows robots to navigate efficiently in novel environments. This feature enhances the speed and adaptability of robot motions, overcoming challenges faced by traditional methods that rely on pre-computed fixed configurations.

GCS also excels in simulation demos, optimising a quadrotor’s path through a building without collisions. The algorithm considers obstacles and door and window entry angles, showcasing its versatility in dynamic environments.

The success of GCS lies in its combination of graph search and convex optimisation. The algorithm searches graphs by exploring nodes and calculating properties to identify the shortest path. The blend of graph search and convex optimisation allows GCS to find paths through intricate environments, simultaneously optimising robot trajectories.

Ongoing research explores expanding GCS’s capabilities for tasks requiring robot interactions with the environment, such as pushing or sliding objects.

MIT Professor Russ Tedrake underscores the importance of Graphs of Convex Sets (GCS), emphasising its deep connections to optimisation, control, and machine learning. According to Professor Tedrake, the GCS framework offers new perspectives on addressing continuous and combinatorial problems within the field. The ongoing evolution of GCS showcases its current capabilities and holds promise for tackling a more extensive array of challenges in robotics and motion planning.

Tedrake’s acknowledgement of the interconnectedness of GCS with optimisation, control, and machine learning highlights the interdisciplinary nature of this innovative algorithm. By integrating insights from these fields, GCS presents a holistic approach to solving problems, particularly those involving intricate spatial and decision-making considerations.

The continuous development of GCS signifies a commitment to pushing the boundaries of its application. As researchers delve deeper into refining algorithms and incorporating advancements in machine learning, GCS is positioned to become an even more versatile tool for addressing challenges in various domains. This ongoing progress can revolutionise, plan, and execute tasks, offering solutions to increasingly complex real-world scenarios.


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