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Nov 8, 2019,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Assistive home robots: Toyota uses virtual reality to teach its robots

In combining human intelligence with the physical abilities of assistive home robots, Toyota believes it can make them more efficient and autonomous and is using virtual reality to make that happen. VR is allowing the Japanese company’s engineers to perceive the environment the robots will operate in and help them memorise their reactions to specific situations. 

Toyota is using virtual reality (VR) to teach assistive home robots to find their way around the spaces they will operate in, each of them different to the other. In doing so, the Japanese company’s research institute hopes to make these robots more efficient and autonomous in carrying out the tasks they will one day perform in people’s homes.  

“The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) is focused on creating and proving the technological breakthroughs necessary to make assistive home robots feasible,” said the company in a press release published on its website on 3 October. 

Teaching based on VR 

VR can help engineers guide the robots, who in the process learn the behaviour they need to adopt. In receiving the same visual information and perceptions as the robots, engineers can direct them and enter the objects and scenarios encountered into their information systems, along with the necessary reactions. Described as an “immersive telepresence system”, this approach provides a way of “leveraging human intelligence and insight to guide the robot’s physical ability”. 

The ability of the company’s robots to respond to different situations in a standardised environment is just one of a number of competencies they possess, such as mobility or the skills required to perform a series of household tasks. As the press release states, this is in response to the fact that “every home is unique, with a different combination of objects in distinct configurations that change over time.” 

A helping hand for the elderly 

The use of VR and human intervention in the teaching phase allows “the robot learns to link what it sees with the actions it is taught” and to do so “even if the scene has changed slightly”. To ensure that conditions are as close to reality as possible, this phase takes place in real homes. 

“It will allow older generations to age in place longer and in dignity,” said Jeremy Ma, head of TRI Robotics, in a video posted online by Toyota. The Japanese group has said that is also looking beyond the homes of its future customers. VR could be used, for example, to teach robots on an assembly line or to instruct them how to carry out logistical tasks.  

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Cover photo credits: Toyota Research Institute/YouTube

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