Japanese robot can peel bananas cleanly, most of the time

A handout photo. A dual-armed robot picks up a banana and peels it without squashing the fruit inside during a demonstration in this handout image taken on Dec 2, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters via ISI (Kuniyoshi) Lab., School of Info. Sci & Tech., The University of Tokyo, Japan.

TOKYO - Robots in Japan are found on factory floors carrying out simple tasks or delivering food to restaurant patrons but researchers have now unveiled a robot capable of executing the delicate task of peeling a banana without squashing the fruit inside.

While the dual-armed machine is only successful 57 per cent of the time, banana peeling points to a future where machines undertake more subtle operations than moving metal parts or delivering coffee.

Video from researchers at the University of Tokyo showed the robot pick up and peel a banana with both hands in about three minutes.

Researchers Heecheol Kim, Yoshiyuki Ohmura and Yasuo Kuniyoshi trained the robot using a "deep imitation learning" process where they demonstrated the banana-peeling action hundreds of times to produce sufficient data for the robot to learn the actions and replicate it.

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In this case, the banana reached its success rate after more than 13 hours of training.

While still undergoing more testing, Kuniyoshi believes his robot training method can teach robots to do different simple "human" tasks.

He hopes the better-trained robots can alleviate Japan's labour shortage problems, for example at bento lunch box or food processing factories that are highly dependent on human labour.