Thursday, 12th of January 2023, 12:00 – 1:00

Toward more self-directed robots in the wild. With an example of how flexible robots can enable new regenerative farming concepts


Sebastian Blaes - Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Tuebingen


In the first half of my talk, I will discuss a recent project in the field of intrinsically motivated reinforcement learning.
The natural world is too complex to preprogram the behavior of robots down to every individual detail. At the same time, the world is too complex to learn everything from scratch purely from data in an end-to-end fashion.

Toddlers and young children use directed, curious self-play to explore the world efficiently and build intuitive theories about the world that they can later use for goal-directed behavior. In this project, we equip an agent with a relational inductive bias in the form of an object-centric state representation and structured world models that lead to a similar curiosity-driven, structured self-play as observed in children if combined with an objective that maximizes for future novelty. During a free-play phase, our agent learns a model of the environment that it can later use for planning to solve goal-conditioned object-manipulation tasks in a zero-shot manner.  In the second half of my talk, I will present a real-world application of robots in the wild. Specifically in the agriculture sector.

Over the last century, industrial agriculture codeveloped with the invention of larger and larger single-purpose farming machines. As a consequence, farmland had to adapt to the requirements of these large machines instead of the machines adapting to the needs of the individual plants. This development led to the unstable, brittle, and unhealthy biological ecosystems that can be found in modern industrialized agriculture.
With this project, we set out to replace large farming machines with swarms of small, flexible, mobile multipurpose robots that can attend to individual plans and become part of rich and diverse biological ecosystems. This opens up the avenue toward new regenerative farming concepts such as permaculture farming by automating many of the processes that, as of today, require intense human labor.


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