UW CSE professor Maya Cakmak and her efforts to train robots to perform everyday tasks are the subject of a recent MIT Technology Review article that posed the question, “What will it take to get a robot to clean your home so you don’t have to do it?”
As it turns out, we have a ways to go before you will be able to trade your Roomba for a Rosie.
Cakmak specializes in programming by demonstration, in which a robot is trained to perform a task by watching and imitating a human’s performance of the same task. The goal is to enable the robot to generalize what it learns through the demonstration—such as a particular cleaning technique—so that it can apply that technique using different tools for different situations. But as Cakmak notes, “Cleaning is different from other tasks we’ve thought about in robotics, which [have] typically involved manipulating objects, or moving them place to place.” For example, a robot would have to learn to identify which tool is the right one for a job, and the correct speed and pressure to apply while using it.
These and other challenges Cakmak identified—such as a lack of machine-friendly design when it comes to many current dwellings—will have to be addressed before autonomous household robots move out of the realm of science fiction and into our homes.
Plus, we need robots with waterproof appendages because vacuuming is a pleasure compared to cleaning the toilet.