Frontiers in Robotics and AI

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Recognizing the actions, plans, and goals of a person in an unconstrained environment is a key feature that future robotic systems will need in order to achieve a natural human-machine interaction. Indeed, we humans are constantly understanding and predicting the actions and goals of others, which allows us to interact in intuitive and safe ways. While action and plan recognition are tasks that humans perform naturally and with little effort, they are still an unresolved problem from the point of view of artificial intelligence. The immense variety of possible actions and plans that may be encountered in an unconstrained environment makes current approaches be far from human-like performance. In addition, while very different types of algorithms have been proposed to tackle the problem of activity, plan, and goal (intention) recognition, these tend to focus in only one part of the problem (e.g., action recognition), and techniques that address the problem as a whole have been not so thoroughly explored. This review is meant to provide a general view of the problem of activity, plan, and goal recognition as a whole. It presents a description of the problem, both from the human perspective and from the computational perspective, and proposes a classification of the main types of approaches that have been proposed to address it (logic-based, classical machine learning, deep learning, and brain-inspired), together with a description and comparison of the classes. This general view of the problem can help on the identification of research gaps, and may also provide inspiration for the development of new approaches that address the problem in a unified way.

Phase-change material–elastomer composite (PCMEC) actuators are composed of a soft elastomer matrix embedding a phase-change fluid, typically ethanol, in microbubbles. When increasing the temperature, the phase change in each bubble induces a macroscopic expansion of the matrix. This class of actuators is promising for soft robotic applications because of their high energy density and actuation strain, and their low cost and easy manufacturing. However, several limitations must be addressed, such as the high actuation temperature and slow actuation speed. Moreover, the lack of a consistent design approach limits the possibility to build PCMEC-based soft robots able to achieve complex tasks. In this work, a new approach to manufacture PCMEC actuators with different fluid–elastomer combinations without altering the quality of the samples is proposed. The influence of the phase-change fluid and the elastomer on free elongation and bending is investigated. We demonstrate that choosing an appropriate fluid increases the actuation strain and speed, and decreases the actuation temperature compared with ethanol, allowing PCMECs to be used in close contact with the human body. Similarly, by using different elastomer materials, the actuator stiffness can be modified, and the experimental results showed that the curvature is roughly proportional to the inverse of Young’s modulus of the pure matrix. To demonstrate the potential of the optimized PCMECs, a kirigami-inspired voxel-based design approach is proposed. PCMEC cubes are molded and reinforced externally by paper. Cuts in the paper induce anisotropy into the structure. Elementary voxels deforming according to the basic kinematics (bending, torsion, elongation, compression and shear) are presented. The combination of these voxels into modular and reconfigurable structures could open new possibilities towards the design of flexible robots able to perform complex tasks.

Frames—discursive structures that make dimensions of a situation more or less salient—are understood to influence how people understand novel technologies. As technological agents are increasingly integrated into society, it becomes important to discover how native understandings (i.e., individual frames) of social robots are associated with how they are characterized by media, technology developers, and even the agents themselves (i.e., produced frames). Moreover, these individual and produced frames may influence the ways in which people see social robots as legitimate and trustworthy agents—especially in the face of (im)moral behavior. This three-study investigation begins to address this knowledge gap by 1) identifying individually held frames for explaining an android’s (im)moral behavior, and experimentally testing how produced frames prime judgments about an android’s morally ambiguous behavior in 2) mediated representations and 3) face-to-face exposures. Results indicate that people rely on discernible ground rules to explain social robot behaviors; these frames induced only limited effects on responsibility judgments of that robot’s morally ambiguous behavior. Evidence also suggests that technophobia-induced reactance may move people to reject a produced frame in favor of a divergent individual frame.

Soft pneumatic actuators have been explored for endoscopic applications, but challenges in fabricating complex geometry with desirable dimensions and compliance remain. The addition of an endoscopic camera or tool channel is generally not possible without significant change in the diameter of the actuator. Radial expansion and ballooning of actuator walls during bending is undesirable for endoscopic applications. The inclusion of strain limiting methods like, wound fibre, mesh, or multi-material molding have been explored, but the integration of these design approaches with endoscopic requirements drastically increases fabrication complexity, precluding reliable translation into functional endoscopes. For the first time in soft robotics, we present a multi-channel, single material elastomeric actuator with a fully corrugated design (inspired by origami); offering specific functionality for endoscopic applications. The features introduced in this design include i) fabrication of multi-channel monolithic structure of 8.5 mm diameter, ii) incorporation of the benefits of corrugated design in a single material (i.e., limited radial expansion and improved bending efficiency), iii) design scalability (length and diameter), and iv) incorporation of a central hollow channel for the inclusion of an endoscopic camera. Two variants of the actuator are fabricated which have different corrugated or origami length, i.e., 30 mm and 40 mm respectively). Each of the three actuator channels is evaluated under varying volumetric (0.5 mls-1 and 1.5 mls-1 feed rate) and pressurized control to achieve a similar bending profile with the maximum bending angle of 150°. With the intended use for single use upper gastrointestinal endoscopic application, it is desirable to have linear relationships between actuation and angular position in soft pneumatic actuators with high bending response at low pressures; this is where the origami actuator offers contribution. The soft pneumatic actuator has been demonstrated to achieve a maximum bending angle of 200° when integrated with manually driven endoscope. The simple 3-step fabrication technique produces a complex origami pattern in a soft robotic structure, which promotes low pressure bending through the opening of the corrugation while retaining a small diameter and a central lumen, required for successful endoscope integration.

This paper presents an intraoperative MRI-guided, patient-mounted robotic system for shoulder arthrography procedures in pediatric patients. The robot is designed to be compact and lightweight and is constructed with nonmagnetic materials for MRI safety. Our goal is to transform the current two-step arthrography procedure (CT/x-ray-guided needle insertion followed by diagnostic MRI) into a streamlined single-step ionizing radiation-free procedure under MRI guidance. The MR-conditional robot was evaluated in a Thiel embalmed cadaver study and healthy volunteer studies. The robot was attached to the shoulder using straps and ten locations in the shoulder joint space were selected as targets. For the first target, contrast agent (saline) was injected to complete the clinical workflow. After each targeting attempt, a confirmation scan was acquired to analyze the needle placement accuracy. During the volunteer studies, a more comfortable and ergonomic shoulder brace was used, and the complete clinical workflow was followed to measure the total procedure time. In the cadaver study, the needle was successfully placed in the shoulder joint space in all the targeting attempts with translational and rotational accuracy of 2.07 ± 1.22 mm and 1.46 ± 1.06 degrees, respectively. The total time for the entire procedure was 94 min and the average time for each targeting attempt was 20 min in the cadaver study, while the average time for the entire workflow for the volunteer studies was 36 min. No image quality degradation due to the presence of the robot was detected. This Thiel-embalmed cadaver study along with the clinical workflow studies on human volunteers demonstrated the feasibility of using an MR-conditional, patient-mounted robotic system for MRI-guided shoulder arthrography procedure. Future work will be focused on moving the technology to clinical practice.

New technology is of little use if it is not adopted, and surveys show that less than 10% of firms use Artificial Intelligence. This paper studies the uptake of AI-driven automation and its impact on employment, using a dynamic agent-based model (ABM). It simulates the adoption of automation software as well as job destruction and job creation in its wake. There are two types of agents: manufacturing firms and engineering services firms. The agents choose between two business models: consulting or automated software. From the engineering firms’ point of view, the model exhibits static economies of scale in the software model and dynamic (learning by doing) economies of scale in the consultancy model. From the manufacturing firms’ point of view, switching to the software model requires restructuring of production and there are network effects in switching. The ABM matches engineering and manufacturing agents and derives employment of engineers and the tasks they perform, i.e. consultancy, software development, software maintenance, or employment in manufacturing. We find that the uptake of software is gradual; slow in the first few years and then accelerates. Software is fully adopted after about 18 years in the base line run. Employment of engineers shifts from consultancy to software development and to new jobs in manufacturing. Spells of unemployment may occur if skilled jobs creation in manufacturing is slow. Finally, the model generates boom and bust cycles in the software sector.

Freezing-of-Gait (FoG) is a movement disorder that mostly appears in the late stages of Parkinson's Disease (PD). It causes incapability of walking, despite the PD patient's intention, resulting in loss of coordination that increases the risk of falls and injuries, and severely affects PD patient's quality of life. Stress, emotional stimulus and multitasking have been encountered to be associated with appearance of FoG episodes, while patient's functionality and self-confidence are constantly deteriorating. This study suggests a non-invasive encountering of FoG episodes, by analyzing inertial measurement unit (IMU) data, towards a real-time intervention via a rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) and hand vibration. Specifically, accelerometer and gyroscope data from 11 PD subjects, as captured from a single wrist-worn IMU sensor during continuous walking, are processed via Deep Learning for window-based detection of the FoG events. The proposed approach, namely DeepFoG, was evaluated in a leave-one-subject-out (LOSO) cross-validation (CV) and 10-fold CV fashion schemes against its ability to correctly estimate the existence or not of a FoG episode at each data window. Experimental results have shown that DeepFoG performs satisfactorily, as it achieves 83\%/88\% and 86\%/90\% sensitivity/specificity, for LOSO CV and 10-fold CV schemes, respectively. The promising performance of the proposed DeepFoG reveals the potentiality of single-arm IMU-based real-time FoG detection that could guide effective interventions via stimuli, such as RAS and hand vibration. In this way, DeepFoG scaffolds the elimination of risk of falls in PD patients, sustaining their quality of life in everyday living activities.

Healthcare workers face a high risk of contagion during a pandemic due to their close proximity to patients. The situation is further exacerbated in the case of a shortage of personal protective equipment that can increase the risk of exposure for the healthcare workers and even non-pandemic related patients, such as those on dialysis. In this study, we propose an emergency, non-invasive remote monitoring and control response system to retrofit dialysis machines with robotic manipulators for safely supporting the treatment of patients with acute kidney disease. Specifically, as a proof-of-concept, we mock-up the touchscreen instrument control panel of a dialysis machine and live-stream it to a remote user’s tablet computer device. Then, the user performs touch-based interactions on the tablet device to send commands to the robot to manipulate the instrument controls on the touchscreen of the dialysis machine. To evaluate the performance of the proposed system, we conduct an accuracy test. Moreover, we perform qualitative user studies using two modes of interaction with the designed system to measure the user task load and system usability and to obtain user feedback. The two modes of interaction included a touch-based interaction using a tablet device and a click-based interaction using a computer. The results indicate no statistically significant difference in the relatively low task load experienced by the users for both modes of interaction. Moreover, the system usability survey results reveal no statistically significant difference in the user experience for both modes of interaction except that users experienced a more consistent performance with the click-based interaction vs. the touch-based interaction. Based on the user feedback, we suggest an improvement to the proposed system and illustrate an implementation that corrects the distorted perception of the instrumentation control panel live-stream for a better and consistent user experience.

We present two frameworks for design optimization of a multi-chamber pneumatic-driven soft actuator to optimize its mechanical performance. The design goal is to achieve maximal horizontal motion of the top surface of the actuator with a minimum effect on its vertical motion. The parametric shape and layout of air chambers are optimized individually with the firefly algorithm and a deep reinforcement learning approach using both a model-based formulation and finite element analysis. The presented modeling approach extends the analytical formulations for tapered and thickened cantilever beams connected in a structure with virtual spring elements. The deep reinforcement learning-based approach is combined with both the model- and finite element-based environments to fully explore the design space and for comparison and cross-validation purposes. The two-chamber soft actuator was specifically designed to be integrated as a modular element into a soft robotic pad system used for pressure injury prevention, where local control of planar displacements can be advantageous to mitigate the risk of pressure injuries and blisters by minimizing shear forces at the skin-pad contact. A comparison of the results shows that designs achieved using the deep reinforcement based approach best decouples the horizontal and vertical motions, while producing the necessary displacement for the intended application. The results from optimizations were compared computationally and experimentally to the empirically obtained design in the existing literature to validate the optimized design and methodology.

In daily life, there are a variety of complex sound sources. It is important to effectively detect certain sounds in some situations. With the outbreak of COVID-19, it is necessary to distinguish the sound of coughing, to estimate suspected patients in the population. In this paper, we propose a method for cough recognition based on a Mel-spectrogram and a Convolutional Neural Network called the Cough Recognition Network (CRN), which can effectively distinguish cough sounds.

Biometric security applications have been employed for providing a higher security in several access control systems during the past few years. The handwritten signature is the most widely accepted behavioral biometric trait for authenticating the documents like letters, contracts, wills, MOU’s, etc. for validation in day to day life. In this paper, a novel algorithm to detect gender of individuals based on the image of their handwritten signatures is proposed. The proposed work is based on the fusion of textural and statistical features extracted from the signature images. The LBP and HOG features represent the texture. The writer’s gender classification is carried out using machine learning techniques. The proposed technique is evaluated on own dataset of 4,790 signatures and realized an encouraging accuracy of 96.17, 98.72 and 100% for k-NN, decision tree and Support Vector Machine classifiers, respectively. The proposed method is expected to be useful in design of efficient computer vision tools for authentication and forensic investigation of documents with handwritten signatures.

Modern scenarios in robotics involve human-robot collaboration or robot-robot cooperation in unstructured environments. In human-robot collaboration, the objective is to relieve humans from repetitive and wearing tasks. This is the case of a retail store, where the robot could help a clerk to refill a shelf or an elderly customer to pick an item from an uncomfortable location. In robot-robot cooperation, automated logistics scenarios, such as warehouses, distribution centers and supermarkets, often require repetitive and sequential pick and place tasks that can be executed more efficiently by exchanging objects between robots, provided that they are endowed with object handover ability. Use of a robot for passing objects is justified only if the handover operation is sufficiently intuitive for the involved humans, fluid and natural, with a speed comparable to that typical of a human-human object exchange. The approach proposed in this paper strongly relies on visual and haptic perception combined with suitable algorithms for controlling both robot motion, to allow the robot to adapt to human behavior, and grip force, to ensure a safe handover. The control strategy combines model-based reactive control methods with an event-driven state machine encoding a human-inspired behavior during a handover task, which involves both linear and torsional loads, without requiring explicit learning from human demonstration. Experiments in a supermarket-like environment with humans and robots communicating only through haptic cues demonstrate the relevance of force/tactile feedback in accomplishing handover operations in a collaborative task.

Current neurorehabilitation models primarily rely on extended hospital stays and regular therapy sessions requiring close physical interactions between rehabilitation professionals and patients. The current COVID-19 pandemic has challenged this model, as strict physical distancing rules and a shift in the allocation of hospital resources resulted in many neurological patients not receiving essential therapy. Accordingly, a recent survey revealed that the majority of European healthcare professionals involved in stroke care are concerned that this lack of care will have a noticeable negative impact on functional outcomes. COVID-19 highlights an urgent need to rethink conventional neurorehabilitation and develop alternative approaches to provide high-quality therapy while minimizing hospital stays and visits. Technology-based solutions, such as, robotics bear high potential to enable such a paradigm shift. While robot-assisted therapy is already established in clinics, the future challenge is to enable physically assisted therapy and assessments in a minimally supervized and decentralized manner, ideally at the patient’s home. Key enablers are new rehabilitation devices that are portable, scalable and equipped with clinical intelligence, remote monitoring and coaching capabilities. In this perspective article, we discuss clinical and technological requirements for the development and deployment of minimally supervized, robot-assisted neurorehabilitation technologies in patient’s homes. We elaborate on key principles to ensure feasibility and acceptance, and on how artificial intelligence can be leveraged for embedding clinical knowledge for safe use and personalized therapy adaptation. Such new models are likely to impact neurorehabilitation beyond COVID-19, by providing broad access to sustained, high-quality and high-dose therapy maximizing long-term functional outcomes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused dramatic effects on the healthcare system, businesses, and education. In many countries, businesses were shut down, universities and schools had to cancel in-person classes, and many workers had to work remotely and socially distance in order to prevent the spread of the virus. These measures opened the door for technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence to play an important role in minimizing the negative effects of such closures. There have been many efforts in the design and development of robotic systems for applications such as disinfection and eldercare. Healthcare education has seen a lot of potential in simulation robots, which offer valuable opportunities for remote learning during the pandemic. However, there are ethical considerations that need to be deliberated in the design and development of such systems. In this paper, we discuss the principles of roboethics and how these can be applied in the new era of COVID-19. We focus on identifying the most relevant ethical principles and apply them to a case study in dentistry education. DenTeach was developed as a portable device that uses sensors and computer simulation to make dental education more efficient. DenTeach makes remote instruction possible by allowing students to learn and practice dental procedures from home. We evaluate DenTeach on the principles of data, common good, and safety, and highlight the importance of roboethics in Canada. The principles identified in this paper can inform researchers and educational institutions considering implementing robots in their curriculum.

This paper adds on to the on-going efforts to provide more autonomy to space robots and introduces the concept of programming by demonstration or imitation learning for trajectory planning of manipulators on free-floating spacecraft. A redundant 7-DoF robotic arm is mounted on small spacecraft dedicated for debris removal, on-orbit servicing and assembly, autonomous and rendezvous docking. The motion of robot (or manipulator) arm induces reaction forces on the spacecraft and hence its attitude changes prompting the Attitude Determination and Control System (ADCS) to take large corrective action. The method introduced here is capable of finding the trajectory that minimizes the attitudinal changes thereby reducing the load on ADCS. One of the critical elements in spacecraft trajectory planning and control is the power consumption. The approach introduced in this work carry out trajectory learning offline by collecting data from demonstrations and encoding it as a probabilistic distribution of trajectories. The learned trajectory distribution can be used for planning in previously unseen situations by conditioning the probabilistic distribution. Hence almost no power is required for computations after deployment. Sampling from a conditioned distribution provides several possible trajectories from the same start to goal state. To determine the trajectory that minimizes attitudinal changes, a cost term is defined and the trajectory which minimizes this cost is considered the optimal one.

Model-based optimal control of soft robots may enable compliant, underdamped platforms to operate in a repeatable fashion and effectively accomplish tasks that are otherwise impossible for soft robots. Unfortunately, developing accurate analytical dynamic models for soft robots is time-consuming, difficult, and error-prone. Deep learning presents an alternative modeling approach that only requires a time history of system inputs and system states, which can be easily measured or estimated. However, fully relying on empirical or learned models involves collecting large amounts of representative data from a soft robot in order to model the complex state space–a task which may not be feasible in many situations. Furthermore, the exclusive use of empirical models for model-based control can be dangerous if the model does not generalize well. To address these challenges, we propose a hybrid modeling approach that combines machine learning methods with an existing first-principles model in order to improve overall performance for a sampling-based non-linear model predictive controller. We validate this approach on a soft robot platform and demonstrate that performance improves by 52% on average when employing the combined model.

The autonomous vehicle (AV) is one of the first commercialized AI-embedded robots to make autonomous decisions. Despite technological advancements, unavoidable AV accidents that result in life-and-death consequences cannot be completely eliminated. The emerging social concern of how an AV should make ethical decisions during unavoidable accidents is referred to as the moral dilemma of AV, which has promoted heated discussions among various stakeholders. However, there are research gaps in explainable AV ethical decision-making processes that predict how AVs’ moral behaviors are made that are acceptable from the AV users’ perspectives. This study addresses the key question: What factors affect ethical behavioral intentions in the AV moral dilemma? To answer this question, this study draws theories from multidisciplinary research fields to propose the “Integrative ethical decision-making framework for the AV moral dilemma.” The framework includes four interdependent ethical decision-making stages: AV moral dilemma issue framing, intuitive moral reasoning, rational moral reasoning, and ethical behavioral intention making. Further, the framework includes variables (e.g., perceived moral intensity, individual factors, and personal moral philosophies) that influence the ethical decision-making process. For instance, the framework explains that AV users from Eastern cultures will tend to endorse a situationist ethics position (high idealism and high relativism), which views that ethical decisions are relative to context, compared to AV users from Western cultures. This proposition is derived from the link between individual factors and personal moral philosophy. Moreover, the framework proposes a dual-process theory, which explains that both intuitive and rational moral reasoning are integral processes of ethical decision-making during the AV moral dilemma. Further, this framework describes that ethical behavioral intentions that lead to decisions in the AV moral dilemma are not fixed, but are based on how an individual perceives the seriousness of the situation, which is shaped by their personal moral philosophy. This framework provides a step-by-step explanation of how pluralistic ethical decision-making occurs, reducing the abstractness of AV moral reasoning processes.