© by Schneider Fabian, 2016 Vienna; For image-sources contact me...

How to train a robot

August 1, 2017


Do you know that feeling when you really want a robot and want it to exactly do what you tell it – but then you realise that you can’t program it?

Well, then I guess you can thank researchers from the Washington State University for their work:


They thought about ways everybody can program a robot without any skill of programming – clearly a way to private robot-servants, etc.

But how do they do that?

When figuring out what the best way would be, the researchers thought of humans teaching dogs commands to do what they want. Something a lot of people have already learned would be a great way to establish such a new technology.

That sounds quite easy doesn’t it? When you initially think of it – yes. When you try to program a virtual or physical (a program or a real life robot) machine to learn like a dog that’s a lot of work. At one time the question comes up “How can a robot ever learn the same way as a dog?”.

Let me explain that: When you train a dog you give a command. The dog then does the right thing and gets a treat. So far, so good. However, the problem is that a robot doesn’t have feelings nowadays, so you must program it to be “happy” when the user gives the robot a treaty (whatever that might be).

But there is another problem: there are various ways how to teach a dog. There is the concept of getting a treat when doing something right (like explained before). Sometimes it gets a treat when it does the right thing or gets a punishment when it does something wrong. (In the first concept the punishment would be “no treat”.)

So the researchers had to program the various ways and teach the machine how to interpret the user input.

However, the robot now acts like a dog: When a command is given for the first time, it does the action in a slow “insecure” way. When it gets a treat for doing it right, it gets faster and more “confident”.

That is clearly a natural way to teach a living being and now even a natural way for teaching robots.

Of course there won’t be any robots tomorrow, that do what you say, but the foundations are done – let’s wait for more from this front…


How can that be applied?

It is a technology that not only can be applied within household-robots. If these robots are equipped with artificial intelligence (even if it is just a simple emulation of it) they could be used easily in the elderly care or other social areas (as support). I can also imagine applications like bomb disposal or other areas that need a dynamic workflow: outboard repairs in outer space or work in contaminated areas.

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