Robots and other advanced computer-based systems are seemingly capable of making complicated decisions based on their programming. A team at MIT wanted to get see what's actually going on inside a robot's "brain" when it's operating so they developed a system that visually represented what is going on when a robotic apparatus appears to make a "decision".

For this study, they gave a robot a task: to cross a room without hitting a human who was pacing back-and-forth in the robot's path. They developed a system to visualize the robot's computation which they called "measurable virtual reality". Utilizing an array of 18 motion capture cameras to track the robot's movement, software rendered the robot's "thought" processes and projected them on the ground of the test space. They used a pink dot to represent where the robot perceived the person it was programmed to avoid.

The system projected a series of lines on the floor which represented the possible routes that the robot was considering taking. As the pink dot moved, the researchers were able to see in real time as the robot revised the possible routes to avoid hitting the person.

Aside from being really cool to see artificial intelligence unfold in real time, there is a practical side to all this: In projecting the robots' thoughts researchers were able to see underlying problems in the robot's algorithms and make necessary fixes to the programming much faster. It's the kind of insight into the robotic mind that could lead to better autopilot systems and drones in the future.

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A new spin on virtual reality helps engineers read robots' minds (via
"In a darkened, hangar-like space inside MIT's Building 41, a small, Roomba-like robot is trying to make up its mind."

MAR-CPS: Measurable Augmented Reality for Prototyping Cyber-Physical Systems (via MIT)
"Cyber-Physical Systems (CPSs) refer to engineering systems that rely on the integration of physical systems with control, computation, and communication technologies."

Projecting a robot's intentions (via MIT)
"A new spin on virtual reality helps engineers read robots' minds."