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Robot teaches itself how to dress people

More than 1 million Americans require daily physical assistance to get dressed because of injury, disease and advanced age. Robots could potentially help, but cloth and the human body are complex. To help address this need, a robot is successfully sliding hospital gowns on people's arms. The machine doesn't use its eyes as it pulls the cloth. Instead, it relies on the forces it feels as it guides the garment onto a person's hand, around the elbow and onto the shoulder. The machine, a PR2, taught itself in one day, by analyzing nearly 11,000 simulated examples of a robot putting a gown onto a human arm. Some of those attempts were flawless. Others were spectacular failures -- the simulated robot applied dangerous forces to the arm when the cloth would catch on the person's hand or elbow. From these examples, the PR2's neural network learned to estimate the forces applied to the human. In a sense, the simulations allowed the robot to learn what it feels like to be the human receiving assistance. The robot is currently putting the gown on one arm. The entire process takes about 10 seconds. The team says fully dressing a person is something that is many steps away from this work.

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