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Engineers Use Laser Pointers To Guide Household Robots

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the helping-the-sick-and-the-lazy dept.

Robotics 28

The New York Times is running a story about a recently developed technique for directing the actions of household robots. Engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have created a robot that will fetch items for you by simply shining a laser on the desired object. Quoting: "'The pointer gives the robot just enough context and guidance to solve the really hard problem of figuring out which object among many lying around in a room to pick up,' Professor Sukhatme said. 'People in artificial intelligence have been working on this problem for a long time.' Just pointing to an object with natural gestures usually isn't enough to direct a robot, and even when robots navigate to the right spot, it's hard for them to grasp a particular object unless, for instance, they have a three-dimensional computer model of it, Professor Kemp said. Guided by the laser pointer, though, El-E can fetch objects as varied as towels, wallets or coffee mugs with no need for elaborate computer modeling."

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Took them long enough ... (2, Funny)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22765826)

... to figure out how to do what we do with dogs and cats on a daily basis ...

Get the Aibo!

WARNING: Do not try with airplanes, helicopters, or police cars.

Re:Took them long enough ... (1)

dattaway (3088) | more than 6 years ago | (#22765880)

... to figure out how to do what we do with dogs and cats on a daily basis ...

They will justify the millions of dollars they spent for the patent too.

Re:Took them long enough ... (1)

marcop (205587) | more than 6 years ago | (#22769656)

Actually, entertaining your cat with a laser pointer is patented (no joke) so they had to find something else to play with.

Re:Took them long enough ... (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 6 years ago | (#22770008)

... to figure out how to do what we do with dogs and cats on a daily basis .../blockquote>

Hrm... wouldn't this just be a consumer version of laser targeting systems that's been used by the military for aiming missiles at buildings and stuff?

What's the point? (2, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22765908)

If you have to guide the robot around, it no longer saves you much effort. Do you think anyone would buy a Roomba if it required constant intervention? Sure, you can still sit on your ass and direct it with a laser pointer without actually moving or exercising, but you would no longer be able to concentrate on other things.

Re:What's the point? (2, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22766138)

What you say is indeed true, but they have found a way to target individual objects without the requirement of complex vision systems. This might be a step forward in several areas of robotics. If you have a robot that is traveling back and forth in a hospital carrying supplies to various points, having to identify each parcel or tray with tags is complex. It would be much easier to do this in some universal way, and laser tag might be that way.

In general, it is not much good for a roomba unless you are using it to tell the roomba 'this way stairs lie' or something like that. In either case, the process of identification for a robot may have been simplified in this case. Remember that robotics presents a LOT of problems that we solve on a daily basis and take for granted as easy when in fact they are very difficult. Just doing the holy grail of robotics (get a beer from the fridge) is far more difficult than you might believe. This is perhaps one way to do so, even though it lacks some elegance at the moment.

Re:What's the point? (1)

sholden (12227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22766186)

It's a different problem/solution. Vacuuming a room is something that can be done petty much independently, it's a problem of navigating around obstacles and so on. Telling the robot to pick up object X over there has the additional step of communicating which of the objects X is and then the robot can do the navigation steps.

This is hard enough with people "could you grab the remote for me? No not that one, the one to the left. No the other left. No the big one with the green button at the top. No. No. Yes. Thanks" shining a laser pointer on it would be much simpler. Until of course you want the damn robot to bring you your laser pointer while you expand to fill the available space on the couch...

Re:What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22767046)

Sure, you can still sit on your ass [...] without actually moving or exercising
Hey, I resemble that remark!

Re:What's the point? (1)

anothernumber (39897) | more than 6 years ago | (#22767774)

i just saw this work presented at a conference earlier this week. this isn't beer fridge 2.0, it's targeted at disabled individuals that would require some sort of helper (helper monkey was the example they used) for basic daily tasks.

Great for the disabled... (3, Informative)

MsGeek (162936) | more than 6 years ago | (#22765998)

One thing that people aren't realizing is that some people simply cannot "fetch" things for themselves. I'm talking, of course, of paraplegic and quadriplegic individuals. People have trained monkeys [monkeyhelpers.org] for this purpose, but having a pet monkey is stressful even for the able bodied [nationalgeographic.com] . So a bot that can do this would be a blessing. A quadriplegic could have the laser pointer on a headband and point with it using their head.

Re:Great for the disabled... (1)

menkhaura (103150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22766142)

From the National Geographic article you linked to:

No federal laws regulate private ownership, and only nine states ban individuals from owning nonhuman primates.

So, one cannot own nonhuman primates... Human primates are okay to own, though?

Sorry, coldn't resist trying to be funny.

Re:Great for the disabled... (1)

belmolis (702863) | more than 6 years ago | (#22770248)

So, one cannot own nonhuman primates... Human primates are okay to own, though?

Only in certain Muslim countries: Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Mauritania.

Also, for those who have RTFA... (1)

MsGeek (162936) | more than 6 years ago | (#22766024)

Doesn't this robot look like HELPeR, the robot from The Venture Brothers? :-)

So... (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 6 years ago | (#22766140)

So they've implemented semi-active laser [defense-update.com] guidance. Not exactly revolutionary, we've been doing it in missiles for years ...

Re:So... (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22779054)

So they've implemented semi-active laser guidance. Not exactly revolutionary, we've been doing it in missiles for years ...

Yes, well, there's a difference between "pick something up" and "blow the fuck out of it." Still, sometimes a little cross-fertilization between disciplines comes up with some useful results.

robotic shark (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22766214)

I for one welcome our self-guiding robotic shark overlord

Warning ! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22766454)

Do not fetch remaining eye !

Not useless (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22767292)

While some of you might think this is useless, disabled people with helping pets (small monkeys especially) have been using this for some time, and it is extremely useful.
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