Robots to put together wardrobe only 5yrs away, say experts

April 17th, 2009 - 3:31 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Apr 17 (ANI): Looking for help to assemble that flatpack furniture, including those wardrobes, beds and chairs? Well, robots to do all this and more are just five years away, according to Scottish scientists.

Professor Jon Oberlander, a computer expert at Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics, says that it is only a matter of time before such machines were available in the home.

“A robot that can help you put together a wardrobe is absolutely on the cards In the lab we have things that are close to being able to do that. It will happen within the next five years. In the home would be the next step,” the Scotsman quoted him as saying.

He also said that researchers were exploring the ways in which humans and robots interact.

He explained: “What we are working on, specifically, in Edinburgh is human-robot interaction. When you or I do something together, like assembling a wardrobe, we effortlessly collaborate to bolt, screw or nail things together. Even if we are not talking, we don’t hurt each other or get in each other’s way and there is an effortless choreography.”

He added: “That requires a kind of mind-reading. It requires a whole series of different skills including being sensitive to social signals - seeing where someone else is looking, their facial expressions, where their hands are, if they are going to pick up an object and hand it to you, all these subtle things. Is this impossible for robots? Absolutely not.”

But, Oberlander said that caution was needed over how advanced such robots should be.

“Safety is paramount because you don’t want to unleash a robot which is potentially quite powerful. It has to give way to a human being and putting together a wardrobe is a brilliant example of that,” he said.

“A general purpose humanoid robot, a real C3PO, a sort of butler robot who goes around doing things for you and translating languages is possible.

“Many of the things you need to build a C3PO are already here. Whether people put them together though, is as much a social choice as a scientific possibility. It is not inevitable,” he added.

Already, Oberlander is helping develop a German robot, complete with head and arms, which could help people in putting together relatively simple objects.

His team has already developed a robot that can walk like a human and climb stairs.

Professor Oberlander will present his ideas at the University of Edinburgh’s Informatics Forum, part of the Edinburgh International Festival of Science, in the capital’s Crichton Street. (ANI)

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