Can robots help with daily household chores?

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Chapter Math in Computing

After decades of being promised that robots will one day take away those pesky household chores, researchers at Cornell University’s Personal Robotics Lab may have just the right programming skills to develop that dream. The lab develops software for complex, high-level robotics, and one of the goals is to produce robots that can clean up a messy room, arrange books in a bookcase, or even pull out the dishes from your dishwasher and put them away.

And they are not the only ones. Researchers at the MIT Humanoid Robotics Group are developing Domo, the latest robot helper—or “human assistant”—in a series of robots. Domo comes with 29 motors, each complete with a computer chips running off a dozen computers that update the robot’s information continuously. In this way, Domo is able to almost mimic the human response of adapting to “his” surroundings.

One of the most difficult tasks in developing such a mobile robot is to make the machine perceive information in a cluttered or unknown environment. Another challenge is to enable a robot to estimate depth. To do these tasks, the researchers have been developing a fast, efficient algorithms that allows the robots to “know” its location and orientation when, for example, picking up an object or locating where it is in a room. This not only involves detection algorithms, but also a knowledge of geometry and spatial orientation in three dimensions.

The list of robotics groups attempting to make better robots grows each year, but don’t count on seeing any of these robots very soon. Researchers estimate that it will take a another decade or so before we see anything resembling the 1960s animated television program of the future—the Jetsons’ Rosie, the robot maid—in our kitchens. You might want to start saving now, too—one researcher estimates that such a robot may cost you as much as a car.


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