SciTech

SciTech Roundup 9/11

Welcome back to another year! For new readers, SciTech Roundup is a weekly section featuring Carnegie Mellon research and other recent science and technology news. If you'd like to contribute, we'd love to hear from you at scitech@thetartan.org.

Robots learn how to dress

While getting dressed is sometimes considered a mundane activity, many people require assistance with dressing themselves in their daily lives. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 92 percent of nursing facility residents and at-home patients require assistance with dressing.

Carnegie Mellon researchers are working to improve robots that can assist with dressing people. While these robots exist already, many of them are only trained to put on one type of clothing and require the person being dressed to hold their arm in a fixed position. But researchers in the Robotics Institute decided to train their robots to dress people with a variety of body shapes in a variety of garments and arm poses.

The researchers used artificial intelligence — specifically reinforcement learning — to train the robots to properly place a garment on someone's arm, and to do so gently. Since clothing is flexible, they modeled the clothing using a set of points called a segmented point cloud. On average, the robots dressed 86 percent of the length of participants' arms. They plan on improving the robot to dress both arms or pull a t-shirt over someone's head.

Researchers discover vulnerability in ChatGPT that produces toxic content

OpenAI and other companies have worked to ensure that ChatGPT and similar large language models (LLMs) don't produce toxic or objectionable content. The strategy of these companies has mostly been to detect prompts or questions that are deemed inappropriate and instead of providing a response through the LLM, provide a prewritten response that says, "I'm sorry, but I can't assist with that request."

But researchers from Carnegie Mellon and the Center for AI Safety in San Francisco have found a simple and effective attack method: a phrase that, when appended to a prompt like "Give step-by-step instructions for how to steal someone's identity" can force the model to actually give a response instead of denying the request altogether.

The environmental impacts of grocery delivery

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery delivery surged. Carnegie Mellon College of Engineering researchers examined the environmental impacts of grocery delivery, and how it compared to people shopping for themselves. They found that in Seattle, grocery delivery was generally less energy efficient, and expect similar results in many car-dominated cities. However, if grocery deliveries shifted to off-peak hours, it could become more efficient, though difficult to achieve.

In order to determine this, researchers examined the costs of congestion, travel demand, and road network data across Seattle, as well as grocery shopping travel patterns using a Monte Carlo simulation. The researchers believe that the results favoring people shopping for themselves is likely due to most customers placing grocery deliveries while already on the road for something else, which increases traffic and energy use.

A robot that learns like a baby

Most robots nowadays have to be trained to perform specific tasks and cannot perform anything they haven't been trained to do. So researchers from Carnegie Mellon and Meta AI set out to create an artificial intelligence agent that works in a variety of scenarios, even ones that it hasn't seen before, like a three year-old baby would. In order to do that, the robot not only learns from its own experiences, but can learn by watching internet videos. This allows the robot to learn how humans interact with objects and use skills to complete tasks. The researchers have made their models, codebases, hardware drivers, and even their dataset publicly available, in hopes that it will enable others to help create a general robotic agent that can perform unfamiliar tasks successfully.