Robots are often feared as entities that will become evil and destructive in the future. But the reality is robots have potential to play a critical role in helping and caring for people.
Now Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is building a robot it thinks could help the elderly or people living with disabilities live independently for longer.
Called HERB, for “Home Exploring Robot Butler,” the robot can already put books away on a bookshelf, grab drinks from the fridge, load a dishwasher, clear a table, and sort items all on its own. Those are some pretty advanced skills in an environment that is difficult for robots to navigate.
“Robots have been used for years on factory floors. These are nice places for robots to work because the environment is very structured, clean and repeatable,” Jennifer King, a doctorate student in robotics working on HERB, told Tech Insider. “As we move robots into the home, the robot must be able to operate in much less structured human environments.”
For example, for HERB to successfully grab a beer from the fridge, it must move other items out of the way without breaking or knocking them over. The software Carnegie Mellon is developing allows the robot to successfully navigate tricky environments like a crowded fridge to accomplish its task.
The unique software King’s team is developing has given HERB creative abilities as well. In one instance, the robot moved an object by cradling it in its arm, something the researchers never taught it to do. The cradling shows HERB is learning to move multiple objects simultaneously and use its whole arm, King said.
HERB isn’t ready to enter your home just yet, but shows how major strides are being made in building robots to care for people.
“We would like to continue to improve our robot’s capability to work in clutter,” King said. “In particular, we want to improve the ability for the robot to work in uncertain environments.”