Teaching a Robot to Flip Pancakes

Chris Higgins

So let's say you want to teach a robot arm how to flip pancakes. Robots aren't known for their pancake-flipping abilities. In this video, researchers show how they taught one robot, using a pan duct-taped to the robot arm. Note that it's a "simulated" pancake being flipped; no real pancake could suffer this much testing. There's more technical detail at this page, but the gist of it seems to be: first, hold the robot's arm and teach it kinesthetically (much like you'd teach a chef); then refine the technique by sending the robot data about success and failure (again, much like a chef). Any pancake-flipping-robot experts out there, please chime in and explain the details.

The video's authors conclude with this statement: "After 50 trials, the robot learns that the first part of the task requires a stiff behavior to throw the pancake in the air, while the second part requires the hand to be compliant in order to catch the pancake without having it bounced off the pan."

A robot learning to flip pancakes from Sylvain Calinon on Vimeo.

See also: Welcome Our New Towel-Folding Robot Overlords; Video: Salami Sorting Robot; The Gutter-Cleaning Robot; Robot Pancake Sorting Machine Operates With Deadly Speed, Accuracy; This Machine Solves Rubik's Cubes; Mesmerizing: Keepon Dancing Robot.

(Via Kottke.org.)