Artificial intelligence guiding a robotic limb can now solve a Rubik’s cube one-handed. The task requires so much dexterity that even humans find the movements difficult.
The system was developed by researchers at OpenAl, a technology firm that has previously created an Al that could outplay humans at the video game Dota 2.
The team taught an Al to control a commercially available robotic hand developed by the Shadow Robot Company. The Al learned using a technique called reinforcement learning, which involves trial and error. “It starts from not knowing anything about how to move a hand or how a cube would react if you push on the sides or on the faces,” says Peter Welinder, one of the researchers.
The Al scored points when it successfully performed a manoeuvre like flipping the Rubik’s cube around or rotating a face of the cube and was programmed to try to maximise its score. It trained in a simulation for the equivalent of 13,000 years before being tested in the real world.
Teaching the Al to do fine manipulation was challenging because of the number of simultaneous points of contact between an object and the robotic hand, says Lilian Weng, also part of the team.
The Al wasn’t responsible for figuring out how to solve the Rubik’s cube by itself. Visual sensors and a dedicated cube-solving algorithm gave the Al instructions about what moves to make, so that the Al could concentrate on the physical movements needed.
The Al learned to correct for mistakes like accidentally rotating a face of the Rubik’s cube too far.
How long the robot hand took to solve the Rubik’s cube depended on how jumbled the cube was, with the best attempt taking around 3 minutes, says Welinder.
The team hopes the Al could eventually control the hand to do general purpose tasks, such as painting or making origami.
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