RoboEarth, A Wikipedia For Robots

Scientists from six major European technical universities are going to launch RoboEarth, a new European-funded system to speed the development of human-serving robots, and to demonstrate possible applications. RoboEarth, will be presented next week after four years of research by the team of scientists from six European research institutes – Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands), Philips, ETH Zurich (Switzerland), Technical University of Munich (Germany) and the universities of Zaragoza (Spain) and Stuttgart(Germany), according to a release from Eindhoven University. The operation of the platform will be demonstrated to a delegation from the European Commission, which financed the project, using four robots and two simulated hospital rooms.

The group demonstrated their work by having a robot named “Avi” scan the physical layout or a hospital room with a patient, a bed and a milk carton placed on a table. The information from Avi was then uploaded and shared to the robot cloud. RoboEarth then activated a second robot named “Amigo” to connect to the robot cloud and access the information recently uploaded from Avi. Amigo used Avi’s room-mapping information to locate and grasp the milk carton and deliver the milk to the patient’s bed. Unfortunately this test did not end in total success as Amigo then dropped the milk to the floor after delivering it to the bed-ridden patient.

The hospital exercise is just the beginning. Organizers say the tasks the robots are carrying out are of a technological sophistication comparable to those performed by high-end robots in automobile factories – they just look clumsier because robots that interact with humans are not performing repetitive tasks in the controlled, sanitized and predictable surroundings of a factory.

The RoboEarth project was years in the making and received around 4 million euros ($5.4 million) in funding from the European Union for interrelated projects at technology conglomerate Royal Philips NV and universities in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. Designers of robots can add information to the system, which is then shared for free so that others don’t have to reinvent the electric wheel. For example, if a robot maker wants to program a hand to grasp something, that’s difficult to design. But the coding for three different ways to do it may be there for a robot to plug into on RoboEarth.

RoboEarth is more than an encyclopedia. It has a system of networked computers that allow it to perform intensive computing tasks that smaller computers – or in this case simpler robots – may not be able to. It also allows individual robots to communicate between themselves, the so-called RoboCloud of networked computers, and the robot database. RoboCloud, sometimes called an “online brain for robots,” which was launched in March.