'Helper' robots seen within 10 years

Sept. 23, 2010 at 7:58 PM
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ITHACA, N.Y., Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Robots capable of helping people with everyday tasks could be available and affordable within 10 years, a U.S. researcher predicts.

Ashutosh Saxena, Cornell University assistant professor of computer science, is working to bring robots into homes and offices that can clean up a messy room, assemble a flat-pack bookcase or unload a dishwasher, all without human intervention, a university release said Thursday.

"Just like people buy a car, I envision that in five to 10 years, people will buy an assistive robot that will be cheaper or about the same cost as a car," Saxena said.

A technical challenge is giving robots the ability to learn in uncertain environments.

It's one thing to make a robot do simple tasks like "pick up this pen, move to the right, turn 360 degrees." It's quite another to enable a robot to understand how to pick up an object it's never come across before or navigate a room it's never been in.

Saxena has focused on how to make robots gather information in cluttered and unknown environments. Using a camera, one of his robots can evaluate an object -- say a cup or plate – and figure out how best to grab it.

This kind of technology will eventually become the basic capability of a full-fledged dishwasher-unloading robot, he says.

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