Robot Librarians In The Stacks

In his 1962 story The Robot Who Wanted to Know, Harry Harrison wrote about robot librarian Filer 13B-445-K, a very curious 'bot:

A Filer is an amazingly intelligent robot and there aren't many being manufactured. You'll find them only in the greatest libraries, dealing with only the largest and most complex collections... The cataloging of human information has always been an incredibly complex task.
(Find out more about the robot librarian)

Several projects are underway to make robot librarians a reality. At University Jaume I in Spain, a prototype robot is trying to get a better grip on books.


(University Jaume robot librarian)

Professor Angel del Pobil sees one of the most difficult tasks ahead for robot librarians is the challenge of mixing with humans - that is, if those pesky bipeds are to be allowed in the stacks at all.

"A library is a semi-structured environment... You can meet other humans, but it is not like an airport or somewhere like that. "So we think it is a good environment in which service robots are out there, working in a human environment, but it is still a controlled one.

The robot is a mobile manipulator with three wheels; its arm has seven joints, a two-fingered gripper and two micro cameras on its wrist. Optical character recognition software is used to read the labels on the books.


(Robot librarian at the University of British Columbia)

The Automatic Storage and Retrieval System at the University of British Columbia is a more structured robotic librarian. Once a student has filled out a request, an ASRS robot librarian trundles through 36,000 meters of climate-controlled stacks to find any of a million and a half volumes stored in 20,000 bins. The robots scan for the barcode that corresponds to the requested book.

Interestingly, the robot Filer from Harry Harrison's story also includes a capacity to suggest related books:

If it was asked for books on one subject, he could think of related books in other subjects that might be referred to.
(Find out more about the robot librarian)
Google Scholar can also help students and researchers find books that are related to the subject at hand.

Read more about the Robot librarian at University Jaume, the UBC robot librarian and Google Scholar.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/5/2007)

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