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Research grant to boost study aimed at helping robots to get a grip

Credit: Queensland University of Technology

Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology, who are working on how robots can be taught to grasp objects in real-world situations, received a US$ 70,000 research grant from an e-commerce giant.

According to a recent report, the University’s robotics researcher, Distinguished Professor Peter Corke, founding director of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision and Research Fellow Dr Jürgen Leitner received the grant in recognition of their world-leading research into vision-guided robotic grasping and manipulation.

Real-world manipulation remains one of the greatest challenges in robotics. The support behind the work in this field is both exciting and encouraging.

While recent breakthroughs in deep learning have increased robotic grasping and manipulation capabilities, the progress has been limited to mainly picking up an object.

The team’s focus moves from grasping into the realm of meaningful vision-guided manipulation.

They want a robot to be able to seamlessly grasp an object ‘with intent’ so that it can usefully perform a task in the real world.

The ground-breaking study by a research team of The BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna and the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision reveals guiding principles that regulate choice of grasp type during a human-robot exchange of objects.

The study analysed the behaviour of people when they have to grasp an object and when they need to hand it over to a partner.

The researchers observed the grasp choice and hand placement on those objects during a handover when subsequent tasks are performed by the receiver.

People were asked to grasp a range of objects and then pass them to another person in the study.

The researchers looked at the way people picked up the objects, including a pen, a screw driver, a bottle and a toy monkey, passed them to another person and how the person then grasped those objects.

It was noticed that passers tend to grasp the purposive part of the objects and leave “handles” unobstructed to the receivers.

Intuitively, this choice allows receivers to comfortably perform subsequent tasks with the objects.

The findings of the research will help in the future design of robots that have the task of grasping objects and passing them.

Grasping and manipulation were regarded as very intuitive and straightforward actions for humans. However, they simply are not.

The team intended to shed a light on the behaviour of humans while interacting in a common manipulation task.

A handover is a perfect example where little adjustments are performed to best achieve the shared goal to safely pass an object from one person to the other.

While most people do not think about picking up and moving objects, which is something human brains have learned over time through repetition and routine, grasping and manipulation for robots remain to be subtle and elusive.

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