Friday, July 30, 2021
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Tools that Think

This tool assists the user with pick and place tasks. (Photo credit: University of Bristol.)
This tool assists the user with pick and place tasks. (Photo credit: University of Bristol.)

Imagine if everyday tools understood the context in which they were used, and could automatically respond in a way that made the job easier? Researchers at the University of Bristol are working on such devices, which they call intelligent handheld robots. The goal is to take advantage of the intuitiveness of traditional handheld tools and add in some intelligence.

The handheld tools that Dr Walterio Mayol-Cuevas and PhD student, Austin Gregg-Smith, are working on go far beyond today’s power tools, which typically have a motor and a few basic sensors. The robots developed at Bristol are aware of the activity they are engaged in, and have more degrees of movement, which allows to move independently from user. The user might provide general directions, while the tool takes on the detailed work.

“There are three basic levels of autonomy we are considering: no autonomy, semi-autonomous when the robot advises the user but does not act, and fully autonomous when the robot advises and acts even by correcting or refusing to perform incorrect user actions,” says Dr Mayol-Cuevas.

The researchers are currently studying task performance and user preferences in a variety of applications, such as catching balls in a handheld net that can move independently from the human user, to increase the likelihood of a successful catch.

“Our results indicate that users tend to prefer a tool that is fully autonomous and there is evidence of a significant impact on completion time and reduced perceived workload for autonomous handheld. However, users sometimes also expressed how different it is to work with this type of novel robot,” said Gregg-Smith.