Next-gen robots to tirelessly serve households

July 15th, 2008 - 4:20 pm ICT by IANS  


London, July 15 (IANS) A new generation of service robots will soon be able to relieve us of heavy, dirty, monotonous or irksome tasks at home, according to scientists. They would work long hours, efficiently, tirelessly and without ever complaining and virtually for free after an initial investment.

Named Care-O-bot 3, the one-armed wonder can even pick up an apple juice bottle and placed it next to the glasses on the tray and serve them to guests.

Only 1.45 metres tall, Care-O-bot 3 is the prototype of a quick-to-learn assistant developed by research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (FIMEA) in Stuttgart, Germany.

Stereovision colour cameras, laser scanners and a 3-D range camera enable Care-O-bot 3 to register its surroundings in depth in real time. If a person moves into the radius of its arm, it stops moving. Another feature of the small, flexible helper is that it can move in any direction.

“This is made possible by an omni-directional platform with four separately steered and driven wheels,” explained Birgit Graf, who heads the domestic and personal service robotics group at FIMEA.

“In this way, the robot can even pass safely through narrow places in an apartment.”

Care-O-bot has a highly flexible arm with seven degrees of freedom and a hand with three fingers. This allows it to pick up bottles, cups and similar objects and to operate machines. Force sensors prevent it from gripping too hard.

A tray is mounted at the front of the robot, on which Care-O-Bot can carry items such as the requested cup of coffee. Integrated in the tray is a touch screen via which the assistant can be controlled. But the robot can also be directed by spoken commands.

“Unlike its predecessors, it can even recognize and respond to gestures,” explains Graf. Numerous household articles are stored in the robot’s databases.

However, the new robot may disappoint science fiction lovers, as it does not look like a human being.

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