Teaching Machines to Do Chores Now in Development Using Virtual World


cleaning a table/ Photo By Ian Allenden via 123RF


Household chores are among the most dreadful obligations people face every day. Much as we hate it, the task of doing these chores is inescapable. That is, unless we can teach robots to do it for us.

In a study at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, computer scientists have been working with machines and teaching them on how to do tasks at home. The early stages of the study have been focused on a program called VirtualHome, a program inspired by The Sims video game.

It is a system that simulates household chores in detail, such as brewing coffee and getting a cup, and then having the virtual agents perform the detailed instruction to accomplish them. Almost 3,000 programs were used to train the agents to work various household activities.

So far, the virtual agents are capable of executing 1,000 interactions based on household tasks. They can execute the interactions in eight different areas of the house, including the kitchen, living room, and home office.

“Describing actions as computer programs has the advantage of providing clear and unambiguous descriptions of all the steps needed to complete a task. These programs can instruct a robot or a virtual character, and can also be used as a representation for complex tasks with simpler actions,” explained Xavier Puig, the lead author of the study and a Ph.D student at MIT.

Even though the system can make virtual agents to do the duties, the execution when it comes to robots would be very different. Robots require a plain but clearer instruction to be able to complete easy jobs. This is because software programming and robotic commands do not delineate from the flow of the script.

For instance, the instruction to watch the TV for a human can be said as “switch on the TV and watch it from the sofa.” But for machines,  there are specific actions in the instructions that have been omitted, like “grab the remote control” and “sit/lie on the sofa,” which refer to the specific approach needed by robots.