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Robots learn to play with play dough


Researchers manipulate elasto-plastic objects into target shapes from visual cues. Credit: MIT CSAIL

The inner child in many of us feels an overwhelming sense of joy when stumbling across a pile of the fluorescent, rubbery mixture of water, salt, and flour that put goo on the map: play dough. (Even if this happens rarely in adulthood.)

While manipulating play dough is fun and easy for 2-year-olds, the shapeless sludge is hard for robots to handle. Machines have become increasingly reliable with rigid objects, but manipulating soft, deformable objects comes with a laundry list of technical challenges, and most importantly, as with most flexible structures, if you move one part, you're likely affecting everything else.

Scientists from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Stanford University recently let robots take their hand at playing with the modeling compound, but not for nostalgia's sake. Their new system ...


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