Friday, July 23, 2010

Robots, with vision, at your service

A recent article and video in the New York Times describes Bandit, a robot built by researchers at the University of Southern California, which interacts with autistic children. Three-foot-tall Bandit can maintain “eye” contact with an autistic child and, sometimes, use playful or sympathetic actions to overcome withdrawn behavior.

Another robot, named RUBI—Robot Using Bayesian Inference—at the University of California, San Diego, images children’s faces, recognizes basic emotions from facial muscle movement, and responds with verbal and physical gestures of encouragement.

These service robots are part of a rapidly growing wave of robotic human helpers. In the classroom they may supplement the work of human teachers, during surgery they may perform delicate procedures, and on the battlefield they may help disarm a roadside bomb, as described in our June 2010 cover story.

The technological differences between these service robots--with their vision and image processing functions--and robots used in industrial applications can be small. For example, a recent article on our website describes the work of researchers at the Technical University of Munich who are imaging non-verbal communications such as gestures and facial expressions as a method of interacting with robots. To date, they have demonstrated that their work can help those that require assisted living and workers in automated production plants, where background noise may make speech recognition difficult.

Recently, European researchers have built a robot for 'on-demand' rubbish collection – just make a call and it will soon arrive at your door. It's ideal for collecting waste in the narrow streets of many historical towns.

About the size of a person, it can navigate the narrowest of alleys, stop outside your door and take your rubbish away. And the best bit is this: You don't have to remember when to put your bin out, but simply make a telephone call. Soon the robot is waiting outside your door, ready to receive your rubbish.

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