Domo Robot No Mere Housekeeper

Domo the assistive robot from MIT, is suddenly in the news today as a prototype housekeeping robot. Domo is no mere Rosie, the robot from the Jetson's, as Technovelgy readers already know (see Domo Robot: Unstructured Interaction Over Time).


(Domo the assistive robot)

Domo is a prototype robot that researchers use to study the problem of functioning in a real human environment. Unlike rigidly structured environments like factories, human beings live in cluttered spaces and engage in many different behaviors.

It's a lot of work for a robot to accomplish a simple task, like taking a cup from your hand and placing it on a shelf. Researcher Aaron Edsinger, an MIT postdoc who has been working on Domo for the last three years, puts Domo through its paces.

Once he captures Domo's gaze, they exchange greetings. "Hey, Domo," Edsinger says, to which Domo responds, "Hey, Domo." "Shelf, Domo," says Edsinger, prompting the robot to find a shelf. Domo looks around until it spots a nearby table that looks promising. The robot reaches out its left hand to touch the shelf, much like a person groping for a light switch in the dark, to make sure the shelf is really there.


(Domo the assistive robot handles cups)

Once Domo has located the shelf, it reaches out its right hand towards Edsinger, who places a bag of coffee beans in the open hand. Domo wiggles them a little to get a feel for the object, then transfers the bag from its right hand to its left hand (nearest the shelf). Domo then reaches up and places the bag on the shelf.

Though it seems like a minor movement, wiggling the object is key to the robot's ability to accurately place it on a shelf, Edsinger says. Domo is programmed to learn about the size of an object by focusing on the tip of the object, for example, the cap of a water bottle. When the robot wiggles the tip back and forth, it can figure out how big the bottle is and decide how to transfer it from hand to hand or to place it on a shelf.

"You can hand it an object it's never seen before, and it can find the tip and start to control it," Edsinger said.

If this seems simplistic to you, remember: before there can be a robot like Sonny in the movie iRobot, there need to be robots who can successfully interact gently with people in the human world.

Take a look at these real-world efforts at robots that work with people (and remember that not all helpful robots will look like people):

Read more about Domo the Robot's features and capabilities; see also this recent Domo press release.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/12/2007)

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