Northern California Science Writers Association

A Giant Step for Robots

  • Tuesday, October 04, 2016
  • 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Z Cafe, Oakland
  • 21


Registration is closed

This year, a robot named BRETT performed some pretty savvy feats for the first time. “He” actually learned to perfect his skills in real time through trial and error —  a process called reinforcement learning that until now has distinguished us from our manmade laborers. For Brett, as for us, practice makes perfect. 

Up to now, robots have been able to carry out rote tasks by dutifully following a baked-in set of instructions. Think auto assembly. But reinforcement learning enables them to modify their performance based on real-time feedback. Onboard cameras and sensors provide moment-to-moment visual and sensory feedback to the software that controls the robot’s movements. 

Under the watchful eye of UC Berkeley machine learning expert Pieter Abbeel and his students, BRETT (Berkeley Robot for Elimination of Tedious Tasks) learned to screw on a bottle cap and pull out nails with a hammer claw, even when the orientation of the two parts changed. BRETT and his cousins have also learned advanced helicopter aerobatics, knot-tying and otherwise-tedious laundry folding. 

Abbeel, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, will describe the challenges of prodding BRETT to this milestone, and the challenges that remain to apply deep reinforcement learning to further boost robotic performance. He’ll also share some video of the skillful BRETT in action.

WHERE: Z Cafe, 2735 Broadway, Oakland (510-451-2905), a 10 min walk from 19th St. BART

6 pm - Schmoozing

7 pm - Dinner
8 pm - Speaker

Z Café & Bar serves scratch-made American cuisine using the freshest, locally grown meats and produce around the Bay Area. The menu changes seasonally to provide flavors at their peak.

The no-host, cash bar features exciting new alternatives with house cocktails infused with fruits and fresh-squeezed juices. Z Cafe offers over 100 vodka selections and a variety of hand shaken specialty martinis including flavored mojitos.

DINNER MENU: Passed appetizers - Boccocini bruchetta

Buffet with: House salad
Smothered Chicken
Lemon Herb Tilapia
Sauteed seasonal vegetables
Steamed Basmati rice
Bread and butter

COST: $28 members / $20 students / $45 nonmembers (there is a limit of 60 attendees)

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