Wednesday, 24 April, 2019

Block party: scientists celebrate robot that can play Jenga

MIT-Jenga-Robot-PRESS Source MIT
Emmett Howard | 03 February, 2019, 12:23

MIT engineers successfully taught a robot how to play Jenga using machine learning and sensory hardware. While we just our senses of touch and sight, the robot used its camera for vision and the wrist cuff for tactile feedback.

For the uninitiated, Jenga comprises 54 rectangular blocks stacked in 18 layers of three blocks each, with the blocks in each layer oriented perpendicular to the blocks below. It's a task that looks easy on the surface but, as the game gets progressively harder, can cause a sweat-inducing panic in players.

This enabled the robot to develop a simple model to predict a block's behaviour on the basis of its visual and tactile measurements as it gained an appreciation of the dynamics behind Jenga. For each block that the bot pushes out of the tower, visual and force measurements are recorded and then if the attempt was successful is recorded. "The robot builds clusters and then learns models for each of these clusters, instead of learning a model that captures absolutely everything that could happen", said the paper's lead author, Nima Fazeli.

Alberto Rodriguez, the Walter Henry Gale career development assistant professor in the department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, said the physical skills required to play Jenga set it aside from more purely cognitive games machines have previously mastered, including chess or Go.

Jenga requires increasing levels of concentration and dexterity to remove the blocks without knocking over the whole tower.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a program that can train a robotic arm to play Jenga, which requires physical interaction but also requires perception data from both touch and vision. "The key challenge is to learn from a relatively small number of experiments by exploiting common sense about objects and physics", he added.

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It could be used to sort recyclables from landfill trash, or assemble consumer products such as cell phones, Rodriguez said.

Details of the Jenga-playing robot are published in the journal Science Robotics. The team found the success rate of the robot in keeping the tower upright while removing the wooden blocks was nearly on a par with that of human players.

As the video above demonstrates, the robot succeeded in learning how to play.

But there is still a way to go if the researchers want to competitively pit their robot against a human player.

While a Jenga-playing robot sounds fun, there are plenty of other practical applications for this kind of technology.

'For tasks like these, a similar approach to ours could figure it out'.

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