Intel Labs Creating Robots of the Future

Researchers at Intel Labs and Carnegie Mellon are creating robots that eventually could find their way into businesses, manufacturing floors, warehouses and homes.

PITTSBURGH, Pa.-Robots can be useful tools in places such as warehouses, which offer environments that are built for them. At the Intel Labs site here on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University, researchers are working on ways to make them more adaptable for places made for humans, including the home.

Intel Labs scientists and researchers from the university are using a robot called HERB-or Home Exploring Robot Butler-as a test bed for a host of various algorithms being devised for personal robots. In addition, Intel Labs also has another research path around collaborative robotics, where robots can interact with humans in various ways.

Both HERB and CoBot2, another test bed for collaborative robotics technology that was created in conjunction with the Coral Lab at CMU, were on display at an open house Sept. 28 at the research lab here.

Click here for a look at Intel's CoBot2 and HERB.

Intel Labs researcher Dean Pomerleau, who works in the collaborative robotics project, said during the event that a key goal is to make robots more commonplace in everyday life, both in business and in the home, and to make them more useful.

"We're looking at what can be done today to make robots more useful to us," Pomerleau said. "We're trying to move robots into everyday circumstances."

At the open house, CoBot2-complete with a Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel hanging from it-demonstrated is ability to move and interact in a relatively small space crowded with people. Operating in a warehouse with very few people is one thing, he said. Being put in an environment with much more interaction with people is a greater challenge for a robot, Pomerleau said.

The robot, which stands less than 5 feet high, includes a Segway base, and a camera and a navigational device on top that helps CoBot2 orient itself in its environment. It also uses a tablet device from Hewlett-Packard as an interface. At the event, the interface shows a map of the room that held a variety of demos of disparate Intel projects that were on display. A person could touch a particular area on the map, and CoBot2 would lead the person to that spot, maneuvering its way through the crowd.

If a person was in the way, the robot would stop and wait. If after three seconds, the person had not yet moved, a voice from the robot would say "please excuse me."

Pomerleau said there are a number of business applications for such collaborative robots. One that Intel Labs and CMU researchers are looking hard at is telepresence. Pomerleau said his research group is working with Intel's manufacturing group at a fab in China to see how a collaborative robot could work.

Many of the workers at the Chinese fab are inexperienced. When they need help from an Intel expert in the United States, it usually involves that expert flying to China.

"It's a long trip and quite a delay" in help arriving, he said.

With a robot such as CoBot2 on site in China, the Intel expert could stay in the United States and give his help via telepresence.

HERB is viewed much more as a personal robot.

"We want to get robots out of the factory floor and into the home," Intel researcher Siddhartha Srinivasa said.

HERB comes with two Barrett manipulator arms, at the end of which are fingered hands that can grasp objects-in this case, juice bottles-and also runs atop a Segway base. On top of the robot is a spinning laser that gives the robot a 3D view of its environment, calculating 40,000 points per second, Srinivasa said.

The robot runs on three quad-core Intel Core i7 processors.

Through the HERB project, Intel Labs and CMU researchers are working in a number of areas, including programs and algorithms that enable the robot to move its way around rooms with people and obstacles, the ability of the robot to safely remove items out of its way to accomplish a task, recognizing people and objects, learning through imitation, and understanding those moments when tasks need to be handed off from robots to people.

Srinivasa said there are a number of areas where such technology could be used, such as health care, where personal robots could be tremendous help to people with disabilities. Technologies that come from the project also could find their way into a number of embedded devices and embedded systems, including cars and smart homes, he said.