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John O | April 2019

Researchers design Blue, a low-cost, human-friendly robot designed for AI applications

By Josh Perry, Editor


Researchers at the University of California - Berkeley designed a new low-cost robot, named Blue, which will utilize developments in artificial intelligence (AI) to perform intricate human tasks such as folding laundry, according to an article from the school.


Blue puts flowers in a vase. (UC Berkeley/YouTube)


The researchers want Blue to be a safe addition for researchers have and, eventually, homes as well. As one researcher explained, Blue is intended to be safe around humans and can have its behavior reinforced by trial and error or by being led by a human. Rather than inflexible like industrial robots, Blue is meant for the ever-changing environment of a home.


“Blue’s durable, plastic parts and high-performance motors total less than $5,000 to manufacture and assemble,” the article noted. “Its arms, each about the size of the average bodybuilder’s, are sensitive to outside forces — like a hand pushing it away — and has rounded edges and minimal pinch points to avoid catching stray fingers. Blue’s arms can be very stiff, like a human flexing, or very flexible, like a human relaxing, or anything in between.”


To achieve cost-control, the researchers gave Blue wide range of motion but limited the amount of strength and precision it is capable of exerting. It can hold 2 kg with arms fully extended but can also exert a much greater force for a short time until it reaches a thermal limit where it needs to rest and cool down.  


“If an AI is going to make mistakes and learn by doing in unstructured environments, these rigid robots just won’t work,” the article continued. “To make experimentation safer, Blue was designed to be force-controlled — highly sensitive to outside forces, always modulating the amount of force it exerts at any given time.”


Berkeley Open Arms, a spinoff company, was created to adapt the robot for large-scale manufacturing.


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