UC Berkeley Professor and TerraSwarm PI Pieter Abbeel heads new startup of AI hotshots

Professor Peter Abbeel's research at UC Berkeley's Robot Lab had been working on adaptive learning through demonstration, initially with the famous towel-folding performed by a robot and the robotic knot-tying from 2013. This week, Abbeel and several colleagues announced a new startup (with US $7 million in seed funding) called Embodied Intelligence which will "enable industrial robot arms to perceive and act like humans instead of just strictly following pre-programmed trajectories."

The new project draws on the groundwork laid by BRETT, a robot that represented a deep reinforcement learning breakthrough for UC Berkeley in 2015. The acronym, believe it or not, stands for Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks.

"Right now, if you want to set up a robot, you program that robot to do what you want it to do, which takes a lot of time and a lot of expertise," said Abeel. "With our advances in machine learning, we can write a piece of software once -- machine learning code that enables the robot to learn -- and then when the robot needs to be equipped with a new skill, we simply provide new data."

The new start-up plans to make robots more skillful and quicker to learn, which could have an enormous impact on manufacturing.

"The goal is to bring the cutting-edge research to robotics and manufacturing," Abbeel says. He says the techniques his company is developing will enable robots to do a range of things that are currently too time-consuming to be programmed in.
See articles in IEEE Spectrum, Electronics 360 and MIT Technology Review for more information.

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