Google's Alphabet is adding yet another chapter to its rollercoaster history of robotics projects. The company's R&D lab, dubbed Alphabet X, is working on a new breed of robots that can learn new tasks, rather than be programmed into performing them.
The initiative is called the "Everyday Robot Project" because, as its name implies, it wants to build robots that can assist humans in simple tasks of everyday life. More importantly, the machines could do so even when confronted with our messy, unpredictable environments.
Brondmo said that Alphabet X's team has been testing the procedure for months in its office. The researchers decided to teach robots how to sort through waste to reduce contamination, which happens when employees accidentally choose the wrong bin for trash items.
With cloud simulation, tens of thousands of virtual robots spent each night sorting through cups, bottles and snack wrappers; then by day, the cloud training was integrated back into the office's real robots.
According to the company, the machines learned well: it said that during the course of the experiment, waste contamination levels reduced from 20% to less than 5%.
"It proved that it's possible for robots to learn how to perform new tasks in the real world just through practice, rather than have engineers 'hand code' every new task, exception, or improvement," said Brondmo.
The project's lead, however, clarified that just because Alphabet X's robots are capable of sorting through waste, doesn't mean that they can learn any other task anytime soon. "This could prove to be impossible," he said, "but we'll give it a shot."
To get started, the tech giant acquired no less than seven robotics start-up companies including Schaft, which was making a humanoid robot; and later on Boston Dynamics, which was making humanoid bipeds.
Not much has been revealed since then, but the concept is, by the sound of it, similar to the Everyday Robot Project. It remains to be seen if either of the two giants will be victorious in the battle to create a household robot.