The rise of artificial intelligence is not only changing our digital landscape, it is also penetrating various fields in unexpected ways. In the latest manifestation of AI’s transformative power, researchers at the Technical University of Delft (TU Delft) in the Netherlands, and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have collaborated with ChatGPT OpenAI to design a robot. This breakthrough project explore the potential benefits and risks of integrating AI into the design process.
ChatGPT: A New Player in Robot Design
ChatGPT, a highly sophisticated language model developed by OpenAI, has been used extensively to generate human-like texts, ranging from poetry and essays to complete books. Researchers at TU Delft and EPFL are seeking to explore whether these AI capabilities can transcend language, and into the realm of robotics.
Asking ChatGPT about the biggest challenges facing humanity, researchers want AI to help create robots that serve practical purposes. The result is a focus on the food supply chain, with design tasks centered around a tomato harvesting robot.
Process and Output
Assistant professor Cosimo Della Santina, PhD student Francesco Stella from TU Delft, and Josie Hughes from EPFL followed ChatGPT’s design suggestions throughout the process. AI input is especially useful during the conceptual phase, as it provides cross-disciplinary insights and suggests economically viable crops for automation.
As Stella explains, “ChatGPT extends designer knowledge into other areas of expertise. For example, a chat robot teaches us which pruning is the most economical to automate.” ChatGPT also proved its worth during the implementation phase, offering technical advice such as using silicone or rubber to avoid crushing tomatoes and recommending using Dynamixel motors to drive robots.
Changing Dynamics in the Design Process
The resulting tomato harvesting robot is a testament to the successful collaboration between human researchers and AI. However, this new design process also changed the role of human engineers, shifting them more towards technical tasks. The research team then explored the various possible levels of cooperation between humans and Large Language Models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT.
Contemplating the Risks and Ethical Implications
While today’s LLM may not yet be able to assume full responsibility for robotic design, the research team expresses caution against such a scenario. As Della Santina points out, “LLM outputs can be misleading if they are not verified or validated. AI bots are designed to generate the ‘most likely’ answer to a question, so there is a risk of misinformation and bias in the robotics field.”
In addition to concerns about misinformation and bias, the integration of an LLM into the design process also raises important ethical issues around plagiarism, traceability and intellectual property.
The Future of AI in Robot Design
Undeterred by this potential challenge, the research team plans to continue using the robotic tomato harvester in their robotics research. They will also continue to explore the role of LLM in designing new robots, with a particular focus on the autonomy of AI in shaping their own physical forms.
As Stella concludes, “Ultimately, an open question for the future of our field is how LLM can be used to assist robot developers without limiting the creativity and innovation that robotics needs to meet the challenges of the 21st century.” These efforts lead to an exciting future, where AI becomes a critical component of our problem-solving toolkit.