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Watch: Georgia Tech’s Robot MacGyver Can Fashion Tools From Spare Parts

August 29, 2019, 5:55 PM UTC

As crafty as television legend MacGyver was, not even he may be safe from the effects of automation—if researchers at Georgia Tech have their way.

The university’s Robot Autonomy and Interactive Learning research lab is programming robots to take different materials and create new tools out of them. Beyond just building tools from available resources, the robots are being taught to know which tools to build in which situation.

“This work looks at enabling robots to construct tools using parts available to them when the tools that they need for a task are either inaccessible or just unavailable to the robot,” says Georgia Tech Ph.D. student Lakshmi Nair in a video.

But forget about actor Richard Dean Anderson using a blood pressure sleeve and alarm clock to MacGyver (yes, that’s really a word) a lie detector machine. The Georgia Tech project was actually inspired by an incident on Apollo 13, when astronauts had to make carbon dioxide filters after carbon dioxide levels on board began to rise. The astronauts were forced to use the supplies available to them without warning, and the project took several days, Nair explains.

But the robotics project isn’t meant to replace human’s problem solving skills. Georgia Tech’s researchers envision the robots assisting people in critical situations by making suggestions and saving time.

“We’d like robots to be able to assist humans in these situations by suggesting possible solutions,” Nair says. “And since robots are often free of the cognitive stress humans often encounter in these situations, they can come up with interesting solutions that might work.”

The project is currently focusing on robots that can build simple tools. But eventually researchers plan on building robots that make complex builds like Rube Goldberg machines, which use a series of reactions to perform a simple task.

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