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Robot can play Jenga

Scientists have developed a robot that can play Jenga.

A team from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been working on the clever bot, which sees players remove a wooden block from a tower of 54 one by one in the hope of keeping it upright.

Professor Alberto Rodriguez, from the department, says the robot is able to learn quickly and relies on not just visually choosing which block is the best to be removed next but also from physical interactions with the tower of wooden blocks.

Professor Rodriguez said: "Unlike in more purely cognitive tasks or games such as chess or Go, playing the game of Jenga also requires mastery of physical skills such as probing, pushing, pulling, placing, and aligning pieces. It requires interactive perception and manipulation, where you have to go and touch the tower to learn how and when to move blocks. This is very difficult to simulate, so the robot has to learn in the real world, by interacting with the real Jenga tower. The key challenge is to learn from a relatively small number of experiments by exploiting common sense about objects and physics."

And Professor Rodriguez feels these robotic skills could have more practical uses too.

He added: "In a cellphone assembly line, in almost every single step, the feeling of a snap-fit, or a threaded screw, is coming from force and touch rather than vision. Learning models for those actions is prime real-estate for this kind of technology. There are many tasks that we do with our hands where the feeling of doing it 'the right way' comes in the language of forces and tactile cues. For tasks like these, a similar approach to ours could figure it out."

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