Tele-operate a physical robot could become an important job in the future, according to Sanctuary AI, based in Vancouver, Canada. The company also believes it could provide a way to train robots to perform tasks that are currently well beyond their (mechanical) reach and imbue machines with a physical sense of the world some say is needed to unlock the human level. artificial intelligence.
Industrial robots are powerful, precise and mostly stubbornly stupid. They cannot apply the kind of precision and responsiveness needed to perform delicate manipulative tasks. This is partly why the use of robots in factories is still relatively limited and still requires an army of human workers to assemble all the delicate elements in the innards of iPhones.
But when such work is nothing to humans, why not forego the complexity of trying to design an algorithm to do the job?
Here is one of Sanctuary’s robots – the upper half of a humanoid – performing a range of sophisticated manipulation tasks. Offscreen, a human wearing a VR headset and sensor-laden gloves controls the robot remotely.
Sanctuary recently ran what it calls the first “real world” test of one of its robots, by having a humanoid like this work in a store not far from the startup’s headquarters. The company believes that making remote physical work possible could help address the labor shortages many businesses are experiencing today.
Some bots already receive remote assistance from humans when they get stuck, like I wrote about. The limitations of AI mean that robots working in restaurants, offices and on the streets as delivery mules are confused by unusual situations. The difficulty of achieving fully autonomous driving, for example, means that some companies are are working to put unmanned trucks on the roads.
Sanctuary founders Geordie Rose and Suzanne Gilbert ran Kindred, another robotic teleoperation company that was acquired in 2020 by Ocado, a British supermarket company that makes extensive use of automation. In this video, the couple talk about company history and projects for the future.
The ultimate goal is to use data from humans tele-operating robots to teach algorithms to perform more tasks autonomously. Gilbert, CTO of Sanctuary, believes that achieving human intelligence in machines will require them to interact with and learn from the physical world. (Sorry, ChatGPT.)
Open AI, the company behind ChatgGPT, is also interested in teleoperated humanoids. He leads a $23.5 million investment in 1 TIME, a startup developing a humanoid robot. “The OpenAI Startup Fund believes in the approach and impact that 1X can have on the future of work,” says Brad Lightcap, COO of OpenAI and Head of the OpenAI Startup Fund.
For humans to help robots with teleoperation, AI might also need to be developed to facilitate human-machine collaboration. Chelsea Finnassistant professor at UC Berkeley, recently shared details about an exciting research project it involves the use of machine learning to enable inexpensive remotely operated robotic arms to operate smoothly and accurately. Technology can make it easier for humans to operate robots remotely in more situations.
I don’t think I would enjoy teleoperating a robot all day much, especially if I knew that robot would one day turn around and kick me out. But it could make working from home a possibility for more people and also make certain types of jobs more widely available. Alternatively, we may have just had a glimpse of a potentially dystopian workplace future.