Robot on loan to students for improvement

May 26, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Do you remember the cartoon "The Jetsons" where robots did just about everything such as washed clothes, did dishes, and made dinner? Well on Wednesday night, one Menlo Park robotics company unveiled what it considers, the closest thing to that. They are loaning out these robots for free.

This robot can grab, stand up and walk. It is called "PR2" and it is a $500,000 robot that can also dance.

But the robot isn't just for entertainment, engineers at willow garage in Menlo Park are hoping PR2 will change the world.

"They can help disabled people sort of filling in the gaps for where ever their disabilities are," says Steve Cousins from Willow Garage.

The robot can already do some helpful tasks.

"It's modeled to have some range of motion that's useful," says Cousins.

It can even fold towels, but it took six months for PR2 to learn it. Development is slow now, but will soon be in over drive because Willow Garage is donating 11 robots to universities and research groups to push PR2 as far as possible.

What these robots will do for grad students all over the world is give them a body to start working on, immediately. Otherwise, building a robot from scratch, could take years.

"Now students can come in and if they want to work on the brains of the robot rather than the mechanical or electrical parts, they can right way jump in," says Pieter Abbeel, Ph.D., from U.C. Berkeley.

Abbeel will now have his chance to work on PR2 for two years. Cal, Stanford and universities in Belgium, Japan, and Germany will all get their own robots and each one has a goal.

"I would be a happy man if the robot can bring us coffee or can sort of try to do clean-up tasks," says Rosen Diankov, Ph.D., from the University of Tokyo.

It may sound trivial, but in Japan, the elderly make up 20 percent of the population. Robots could make life easier for the aging, but with so many minds at work the possibilities for these robots goes far beyond the basic.


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