EPFL researchers in Switzerland have developed a robot that is capable of reacting on the spot and grasping objects with complex shapes and trajectories in less than five hundredths of a second.

Robot developed by EPFL researchers is capable of reacting on the spot and grasping objects with complex shapes and trajectories in less than five hundredths of a second.

The ability to catch flying things requires the integration of several parameters and reacting to unforeseen events in record time. “Today’s machines are often pre-programmed and cannot quickly assimilate data changes, added Aude Billard. Consequently, their only choice is to recalculate the trajectories, which requires too much time from them in situations in which every fraction of a second can be decisive.”

It was programmed at the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory at EPFL (LASA) and designed to test robotic solutions for capturing moving objects. It is unique, as it has the ability to catch projectiles of various irregular shapes in less than five hundredths of a second.

The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology and is located in Lausanne, Switzerland. EPFL is ranked as Europe’s #1 and world’s #15 university in the field of “Engineering/Technology and Computer Sciences” in the academic ranking of world universities (ARWU) by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

The Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory (LASA) at the EPFL was founded on the 1st of January of 2006. The lab focuses on machine learning, cognitive robotics, computational neuroscience and integrated mechatronics design. LASA is funded primarily by research grants from the EPFL, the European Community and the Swiss National Science Foundation. In addition, LASA has strong ties with various spin-off companies of the EPFL in the field of robotics.

Research at LASA aims at developing robust and adaptive control architectures to realize intelligent robots. The research combines engineering, computer science and computational neuroscience methods for the development of learning control system to enable flexible human-robot interactions. The emphasis is given to research on learning of new motor skills, on the interpretation and recognition of gestures, and on the acquisition and interpretation of verbal communication. The lab has a particular interest in humanoid and educative robotics. A third of the team is developing various types of mechatronic systems, some of which for use in educational and therapeutic applications with normal and disabled children.

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The way humans themselves learn: by imitation and trial and error. This technique, called Programming by demonstration, does not give specific directions to the robot. Instead, it shows examples of possible trajectories to it. It consists in manually guiding the arm to the projected target and repeating this exercise several times.

The research was conducted with a ball, an empty bottle, a half full bottle, a hammer and a tennis racket. These five common objects were selected because they offer a varied range of situations in which the part of the object that the robot has to catch (the handle of the racket, for example) does not correspond to its center of gravity. The case of the bottle even offers an additional challenge since its center of gravity moves several times during its trajectory. When projected into the air, all these items will make even more complex movements, often involving several axes. As a result, when the moving objects are submitted to the robot’s abilities, the outcomes turn out quite interesting.

The Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, lead by Dario Floreano, takes inspiration from nature to design artificial intelligence and robots that are soft, fly, or evolve their own behaviors.

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