If you watched The Jetsons as a child, chances are, you’ve been waiting for your personal household robot for decades. Today, you may be a little closer to that goal, though it may not look much like Rosie the Maid from the cartoon!
A Silicon Valley tech development called Willow Garage can help you. The company’s new PR2 robot -- coming to a home near you -- can shoot pool, bake cookies from scratch, and maybe, most importantly, can fetch and open a beer. It's the most advanced personal robot in a galaxy that isn't quite so far, far away, according to the robot’s recent profile on CBS News.
Steve Cousins, CEO of Willow Garage, says the robot can do chores that people are stuck doing. And while it may not yet be a personal Rosie or even C3PO, the important idea is that people can soon have a “robotic device that can move around in a human space and do things for us is real. That's actually happening.”
"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."
Rather than start from scratch, Willow Garage worked with university robotics labs that already had their own prototypes under development, including the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department at the University of California, Berkeley.
"The big challenge in robotics right now is how to make robots deal with variability,” said Pieter Abbeel, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley, who has been helping his prototype PR2 robot learn to fold laundry. “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 towels, T-shirts, and so forth. The more variability, the harder the task is going to be."
To help adapt to different home environments and tasks, 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, reports CBS News. In other words, it’s important that the robot can “learn” from its own experiences.
Willow Garage says its sees the robots as ideal for households with senior citizens or disabled people. It’s also going to be the coolest thing going for anyone (like yours truly) who watches a lot of sci-fi and has been waiting far too long for a personal robot.
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