Toyota’s vision on the advancement on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence made them start the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), five years back. And the results start shining. This month earlier TRI announced its first prominent product to the world. A robot developed by them are meant to help people out around their homes. The idea of a helper robot has been around for decades, but it has already begun to gain more real-world traction, especially in countries such as Japan where an aging population could cause shortages in support staff.
TRI’s primary home robot design is built to hang from a special set of tracks built into a home’s ceiling. We typically imagine robot butlers rolling or actually walking around our spaces (due at least in some part to the awful robot butler in Rocky IV), but TRI says mounting a bot on the ceiling brings considerable advantages.
First, the robot has a simpler time learning the layout of the home—it doesn’t need to learn complex paths around obstacles to get from one place to another because there’s a kitchen island or a new recliner to get in its way. That also means the robot won’t get under foot as someone tries to navigate around their own home. TRI’s bot can fold up tightly to the ceiling when it’s not in use, so it effectively takes up zero usable space.
Toyota is big on robots learning from limited sets of parameters. So, if you wanted the robot to learn to wipe down the countertops, a human could perform that action in VR and the robot would understand the human’s actions and mimic them in the real world while monitoring variables. If you wanted to teach the robot to clean your countertops, you could do it in VR and it would understand going forward. Also, through what’s known as fleet learning, a human could teach one bot, and other networked machines would get the same lessons.
That concept makes more sense as it scales to multi-unit buildings like elder care facilities. If the builders could make the units look nearly identical on the inside, engineers could train one robot, then share that information with the rest of the networked machines.
In addition to the whole home bot, TRI also showed off some smaller aspects of the tech. The bubble gripper, for instance, is an automated claw with soft pads on its gripping surfaces. A light system projects a series of dots on the inside of the pads and a camera to observe how the pads deform when it picks up an object.
As a result, the system can analyze—in real time—the properties of the object with which it’s interacting. The demo showed it stacking several delicate wine glasses on top of each other on an unfamiliar surface.
TRI has clearly made considerable progress on its robotic pursuits and plans to continue working on this kind of tech in the future. There’re no hard plans to make this available to the public just yet, but the company does hope to roll out at least some of these technologies in the near future.