The robot, called "Blue," was designed to use recent advances in AI and deep reinforcement learning to master basic - but intricate - human tasks, something that robots typically still struggle with. At the same time, say the researchers, Blue was built to remain affordable and safe enough that every artificial intelligence researcher — and eventually every home — could have one.
"AI has done a lot for existing robots, but we wanted to design a robot that is right for AI," says Pieter Abbeel, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley. "Existing robots are too expensive, not safe around humans and similarly not safe around themselves – if they learn through trial and error, they will easily break themselves. We wanted to create a new robot that is right for the AI age rather than for the high-precision, sub-millimeter, factory automation age."
As opposed to factory automation robots costing tens of thousands of dollars, Blue was built using durable, plastic parts and high-performance motors that had a total cost of less than $5,000 to manufacture and assemble. Its arms, though lacking some of the strength and precision of a typical robot, are each about the size of the average bodybuilder's, and are sensitive to outside forces - like a hand pushing it away. Featuring rounded edges and minimal pinch points to avoid catching stray fingers, the arms can also be very stiff, like a human flexing, or very flexible, like a human relaxing, or anything in between.
"One of the things that's really cool about the design of this robot is that we can make it force-sensitive, nice and reactive, or we can choose to have it be very strong and very rigid," says graduate student David Gealy. "Researchers can adjust how stiff the robot is, and what kind of stiffness - do you want it to feel like molasses? Do you want it to feel