Animal training techniques inspired researchers from Washington State University (WSU) to design a computer program that lets non-expert users train a virtual robot that looks like a computerized dog.
"We want everyone to be able to program, but that's probably not going to happen," said Matthew Taylor, Allred Distinguished Professor in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "So we needed to provide a way for everyone to train robots — without programming."
The virtual dog reacts to instructions at different speeds. Just like a real animal, its slower movements let the user know that the virtual dog was unsure of how to behave. The user could then give clearer instructions to help the robot learn better.
"At the beginning, the virtual dog moves slowly. But as it receives more feedback and becomes more confident in what to do, it speeds up," said Bei Peng, a doctoral student in computer science at WSU.
"When you're training a dog, you may withhold a treat when it does something wrong," Taylor explained. "So no feedback means it did something wrong. On the other hand, when professors are grading tests, they may only mark wrong answers, so no feedback means you did something right."The team has begun working with physical robots as well as virtual ones. The researchers also hope to eventually use the program to help people learn to be more effective animal trainers.
Funding for the project came from a National Science Foundation grant totaling $440,000.