Robot overcomes uncertainty to retrieve buried objects


James Day | MIT Media Lab

James Day | MIT Media Lab 

By Adam Zewe

For humans, finding a lost wallet buried under a pile of items is pretty straightforward — we simply remove things from the pile until we find the wallet. But for a robot, this task involves complex reasoning about the pile and objects in it, which presents a steep challenge.

MIT researchers previously demonstrated a robotic arm that combines visual information and radio frequency (RF) signals to find hidden objects that were tagged with RFID tags (which reflect signals sent by an antenna). Building off that work, they have now developed a new system that can efficiently retrieve any object buried in a pile. As long as some items in the pile have RFID tags, the target item does not need to be tagged for the system to recover it.

The algorithms behind the system, known as FuseBot, reason about the probable location and orientation of objects under the pile. Then FuseBot finds the most efficient way to remove obstructing objects and extract the target item. This reasoning enabled FuseBot to find more hidden items than a state-of-the-art robotics system, in half the time.

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