Robots used in industrial settings often perform dull, dangerous, or repetitive functions — if only they could take over similar tasks in people’s homes! While the price of personal robots is still prohibitive and the technology is still developing, a robotic housekeeper isn’t the science fiction it was 50 years ago. Researchers are working hard to open up a whole new consumer market in personal robots.
Personal robots moving closer to reality
Reported by John Blackstone
While fantasies of robotic maids may still be a dream, the field of robotics is progressing rapidly and the PR2 is at the center of that progress. “We created this open source software platform that is what Windows is to the PC,” Cousins explained. “Everybody’s sharing software and we can make progress to this future where we see robots.”
Until Willow Garage created the PR2, each robotics researcher had to build their own robot from scratch before they could even begin experimenting. Pieter Abbeel, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “You spent so much time building and maintaining that contraption that your research would be really slowed down.”
Abbeel got one of 11 PR2s that Willow Garage gave to university researchers who agreed to share their work to speed the evolution of artificial intelligence.
Abbeel decided to teach his robot to fold laundry — not as mundane a task as you might think. Abbeel explained, “The big challenge in robotics right now is how to make robots deal with variability. Whenever things change around the robot, it needs to understand what it is that has changed and how to act on it. Any time you present a pile of laundry, it’s going to be different. You’re manipulating this towels, T-shirts, and so forth. The more variability, the harder the task is going to be.”
To be of practical use in the home, robots need to figure out a changing world around them. To do that, the PR2 is loaded with sensors that reveal its surroundings in 3D. It knows when someone is in a room with it and sees the person in detail. But while seeing is one step, understanding is another.
Read the full article at CBS News. Where do you see the biggest application for personal, in-home robots? What chores would you gladly pass off to a helping robotic hand?