When robots and other robotic devices become the most mundane and everyday thing, their ability to self-repair and restore will be one of the most popular functions. I would like to hope that in the future these robots will be reliable enough and they will not need to engage in self-repair often enough. But in any case, they will need periodic minor maintenance, with which they can cope quite independently.
At Humanoids 2019 in Toronto, Canada, researchers from the University of Tokyo demonstrated the PR2 robot, trained to independently carry out minor repairs of its design. Moreover, using these skills, the robot was able to expand its functionality by adding additional hooks and grips when it became necessary to carry more things than could fit on the original design.
To supply the robot PR2, drawings of its design prepared in a special format in a CAD system were loaded into his memory. Thanks to this, the robot found out exactly where each screw and part is located. However, at this stage, the robot is not yet able to determine the level of wear and the condition of its components and parts. But he can find out how much his current position of the body, manipulators and other elements correspond to the digital model. This allows him to find inconsistencies, the cause of which may be a worn or broken part.
Moreover, the robot is already able to accept help from humans. Using a position and movement recognition system, the robot can very well determine which part a person is pointing to. Further, as they say, is a matter of technology, the robot instantly determines which screws it needs to unscrew in order to get to the part requiring replacement.
However, with the replacement of parts on their own, modern robots have a number of difficulties, the mobility of limbs and manipulators simply does not allow them to reach all corners of their own design. And in order to repair something hidden in such a “secluded place”, the robot will need to find another robot that will help him with the repair.
It was not easy to teach the robot to even unscrew the screws in its own design. If the screw is located in an accessible place, and its head fits under a standard screwdriver, then no problems arise. However, most of the screws are located in hard-to-reach places, and they have heads to which only non-standard keys fit. To work with such screws, the robot must be able to intercept the key, doing it in the same way as a person who unscrews or wraps the screw literally in millimeters.
But after the robot PR2 fully mastered the art of loosening-tightening screws, he was able to do not only self-repair, but also the modernization of his design, making it more adapted to perform the current specific task. As mentioned above, the robot itself was able to install additional grips and fasteners, since its design initially provided for the possibility of installing additional elements. At the same time, the type of these additional elements and the place for their installation were determined by the robot independently using the drawings loaded into it.