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lunes, 25 de octubre de 2010

Robot Duo Make Pancakes From Scratch

Household robots could become a reality sooner than we think. But the first hurdle they would have to clear is to prove they can make great pancakes. After all, the breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

A demo posted by Willow Garage, a Palo Alto, California, robotic company, shows two robots working together to make pancakes from a mix. The robots — James and Rosie — even flipped the pancakes correctly.

As you can see in the video (the fun stuff begins at the 1:26 mark) the James robot opened and closed cupboards and drawers, removed the pancake mix from the refrigerator, and handed it to Rosie.

Rosie the robot cooks and flips the pancakes and gives them back to James. Watch for that moment of suspense when Rosie is about to flip the pancake (at the 8:35 mark) and the spontaneous applause from the onlookers when the robot gets it right.

“Behind this domestic tableau is a demonstration of the capabilities of service bots,” says Willow Garage on its blog. “This includes characteristics such as learning, probabilistic inference and action planning.”

For a robot, learning how to flip a pancake is quite a task. Earlier this year, two researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology taught a robot how to do it. The robot had to hold its hand stiffly to throw the pancake in the air and then flex the hand just enough so it could catch the pancake without having it bounce off the pan. It took that robot about 50 tries to get it right.

The latest experiment brought together two different robots: James, a $400,000 robot from Willow Garage and Rosie, a robot from the Technical University Munich. The two robots are among the most sophisticated and advanced humanoid robots today.

James has two stereo camera pairs in its head. The four 5-megapixel cameras are supplemented with a tilting laser range finder. Each of the robot’s forearms has an Ethernet wide-angle camera, while the grippers at the tip have three-axis accelerometers and pressure-sensor arrays on the fingertips. At the base of the robot is another laser range finder.

The PR2 is powered by two eight-core i7 Xeon system servers on-board, 48 GB of memory and a battery system equivalent to 16 laptop batteries or about two hours of battery life.

Rosie has two laser scanners for mapping and navigation, one laser scanner for 3-D laser scans and four cameras, including two 2-megapixel cameras, one stereo-on-chip camera and a Swiss-Ranger SR4000 time-of-flight camera.

The advanced capabilities of the robots came in handy for the task they were assigned. In the demo, one of the robots used the web to solve a cooking problem it faced. The robot looked up a picture on the web and went online to find the cooking instructions for the pancake mix that came from the fridge.

James and Rosie aren’t yet ready “for haute cuisine” say Willow Garage researchers. Nor are they likely to be in your kitchen anytime soon, unless you are ready to pay a couple hundred thousand dollars for a pancake that may not be half as good as the $5 IHOP stack.

But the experiment gives us a pretty good sense of the possibilities. And the robots are cute, besides.

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