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A robot can now peel a banana without crushing it

It is well-known that handling soft fruit is challenging for robots, but now a machine-learning system was able to conquer the task by imitating how a person does it. The uneven shape of fruit – which can vary significantly even with the same type of fruit – can also baffle the computer-vision algorithms that act as the brains of such robots.

Heecheol Kim at the University of Tokyo and his colleagues have developed a machine-learning system that powers a robot, which has two arms and hands that grasp between two “fingers”.

First, a human operating the robot peeled hundreds of bananas, creating 811 minutes of demonstration data to train the robot to do it by itself. The task was divided into nine stages, from grasping the banana to picking it up off the table with one hand, grabbing the tip in the other hand, peeling it, then moving the banana so the rest of the skin can be removed.

In tests, the robot was able to successfully peel a banana 57 per cent of the time. The whole process takes less than 3 minutes.


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