New CoBots are “help on wheels” – Science Nation


♫MUSIC♫ MILES O’BRIEN: Meet CoBot – short for “Collaborative Robot.” You might call it “help on wheels.” MANUELA VELOSO: I have to tell you that many people have done moving robots, and others continue – everybody does – but the thing that is actually beautiful about CoBot is that nobody follows CoBot. It just goes by itself. [COBOT] MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the National Science Foundation, computer scientist Manuela Veloso and her team at Carnegie Mellon University are developing CoBot as an autonomous indoor service robot to interact with people and provide help “on the go.” MANUELA VELOSO: Okay, go. Escort me. Transport this item from one place to another. Go there and deliver a message. Pick up that for me. So, all of these navigation challenges became a part of the service robot that we had to address. MILES O’BRIEN: Getting on CoBot’s dance card is simple: log on to a website, select a task, book a time slot – and it’s on the job. CoBot is not just following a pre-programmed floor plan. It’s recording every turn, monitoring the walls, calculating planar surfaces, plotting window and door locations, noting where the carpet and hardwood floor meet – learning the space as it moves along. Navigating. MANUELA VELOSO: This motion of the robot plus the sensing of this plane detection allows the robot to estimate its location in the building. MILES O’BRIEN: CoBot can respond to voice commands. MANUELA VELOSO: Go to Brian’s office. COBOT: Going to the office. MILES O’BRIEN: And a key to its success is “symbiotic autonomy” – knowing when and where to ask humans for help, like pressing buttons in the elevator. RESEARCHER: So, I press seven. MILES O’BRIEN: And searching the web when asked about an object it doesn’t know. RESEARCHER: Bring me a hamburger. COBOT: This object is not in my knowledge base, I will search the web, using… MILES O’BRIEN: So when can you expect to see a CoBot rolling down a hall near you? Veloso sees lots of opportunities. But even she wonders – are we really ready? MANUELA VELOSO: We could have CoBots in supermarkets. We could have CoBots in museums. We could have CoBots in hospitals. We could have CoBots in schools. Whether people generally will be able to accept a moving thing that moves by itself and interacts with you, I don’t know psychologically how far away we are from that. MILES O’BRIEN: Not a problem for me – send it on over. I’ve got a long “to-do list” – and, well, I could use the help. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.

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