These industrial robots teach each other new skills while we sleep


It takes days to reprogram an industrial robot. With artificial intelligence, it could take only a few hours.

Fanuc, maker of the industrial robots used to assemble Apple’s iPhone and cars for Volkswagen and Tesla, is now partnering with Nvida to add the company’s graphics processing units to its massive machines.

Fanuc launched an initiative to bring artificial intelligence to its robots after investing $7.3 million in Preferred Networks, a machine learning company, in 2015.

Nvida’s graphics processing units and deep-learning technology will be used to help Fanuc robots recognize, process and respond to the environment around them. It’s especially important for reinforcement learning, which is how machines use artificial intelligence to adopt new skills through practice.

A robot may capture video of itself to review how it well it did, then analyze and build on that information as it keeps improving over time. Fanuc’s machines will feed what they learn into a neural network that other robots can learn from and contribute to as well, reported MIT Technology Review.

Industrial robots are big and dangerous and really good at doing a single task over and over again with exacting precision.

But when the production flow changes, it can take days for an engineer to write a new teaching program and get all the massive machinery onboard. With reinforcement learning through AI, however, robots on an assembly line can teach themselves to take on a new task overnight.

The idea is that when Fanuc’s robots learn together, they learn faster. And Nvida’s technology is especially good at parallel processing, meaning it can simultaneously handle thousands of computational tasks.

But even with reinforcement learning and artificial intelligence, it may take a single robot hours to reprogram itself. With parallel computing, however, eight robots working together for one hour can learn just as much as a single robot working for eight hours. It’s dramatically faster than hand-coding custom instructions.

Fanuc isn’t the only industrial robotics firm to move into artificial intelligence. ABB, another global leader in industrial robotics, invested $10 million in Vicarious, an AI company that counts Ashton Kutcher, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Benioff and Jeff Bezos amongst its backers.

Watch a video of Fanuc’s robots assembling cars at an Audi plant in Hungary:

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