Toyota’s Home-Helping Robots can be Trained Using VR

Credit: TRI

From the moment robots started to emerge in popular culture, several decades ago, people imagined how they can help with household activities. Today, we are still waiting for those robots to show up when we need them, but the wait may be finally over.

Toyota, one of the frontrunners in robotic technology, just showed us how Virtual Reality (VR) could be used to teach robots how to do things.

Up to this moment, Toyota mainly used simulations to teach their robots for stuff like vacuum cleaning or loading the washing machine. However, simulation can only help in specific tasks and a controlled environment. According to the Toyota Research Institute, teaching a robot to complete tasks in different homes is very difficult. Each household is different, which can cause significant problems for the robots to find their way and complete the tasks.

Toyota found a way to mitigate this using VR. Essentially, a human teacher coaches the robot on how to do something in the home it will be deployed in. Thanks to VR technology, the teacher can do this while being at the office.

The cameras built into the robot will stream a video and receive instructions on what to do next. With this method, robots can learn parameters on what is safe behavior, rather than just specific movements. Toyota’s robot can even pass the knowledge it acquired to other robots via “fleet learning,” which should cut on teacher’s involvement in the future.

A great example of this is opening a refrigerator. A simple robot with specific movements can only open one type of refrigerator. The Toyota VR robot, on the other hand, can learn to open different refrigerators.

The company sees these robots as an overall improvement in the quality of life for the aging population. Right now, the robots are only prototypes, but considering the advanced stage of development, we are hoping for a final product in the next few years.

Bianca Van der Watt

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