Intel Labs May Help Bring Personal Robots to Your Home Soon


By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

If you missed the Robotics Industry Forum presentation by Dieter Fox of Intel Labs you missed what may have been the most humorous and provocative session of the week. He predicts that low-cost sensors will be commercially available in 2010 that will enable affordable robots that can operate in unstructured environments like your home and safely share space with humans. Much research has been done in this area, and robots are available now that can roam hospitals and other places while performing useful work, however cost remains a barrier to widespread consumer applications.

Watch for new RGB-D cameras, says Mr. Fox. They offer depth perception and will be less than $100 he says. Laser mapping is the current state-of-the-art for mobile robots and comes with a price tag in the $60,000 range. He referenced displays at the Consumer Electronics Show where 3D laser mapping was demonstrated as a new form of automotive telematics.

He emphasized that another key driver is an expected shift from mechanics to algorithms as a way to achieve autonomous robots. This, of course, is why Intel Labs is so interested and doing so much research on robotics.

All the hype about “there’s an app for that” certainly applies in the robotics field. Mr. Fox sees an opportunity for “natural human-robot interfaces” based on existing work such as Google SketchUp and 3D Warehouse.

Another way robots can work more independently is with the aid of electric sensors on grippers that provide feedback so a gripper can grasp and pick up random objects. In one case, a Barrett Arm equipped with such sensors picks up coffee cups and places them in kitchen cupboards that it opens and closes.

Eventually, he sees robots incorporated into gaming applications where children and adults play in concert with a robot.  No doubt that would open up profitable possibilities for Intel.

Mr. Fox’s session was a perfect wrap to a well attended (more than 250 people) Association event in Florida that combined technology talks from Automated Imaging Association, Motion Control Association and Robotic Industries Association. Insight about the economy, state-of-the-industry, trends and near-term developments all came to life within the context of this session.

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