Enabling Robots to Improvise Tools
There are not many species out there that have learned to use tools, but there are some besides humans. Robots are a different story though as none have actually learned to use tools, but some have been programmed to use preexisting tools. That may change soon thanks to a grant from the Office of Naval Research to the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The scenario is fairly simple: the door to a room is jammed, trapping its occupant inside. While a human could look around to find a lever to pry the door open, a modern robot cannot improvise such a tool. That same robot may recognize the item a human would use to open the door, but it could not realize how it could be used for that purpose, and that is what the researchers are going to be working on. To accomplish this, the researchers are working with systems for machine learning and techniques to model human perception, inference, and other capabilities.
Eventually the researchers would like to see a robot that "behaves like MacGyver" as it will take everyday objects to solve not-so-everyday problems. Hopefully its robotic hands will be sensitive enough to work with paperclips.