Cobots Help Out
December 16, 2013

New ‘CoBots’ Lend A Helping Hand In Office Settings

[ Watch The Video: New CoBots Are Help On Wheels ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Researchers, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), are developing autonomous indoor service robots that can interact with people and provide help while on the go.

The so-called CoBots, or “Collaborative Robots,” are able to transport objects, deliver messages, escort people and go to places in multi-floor buildings. In order to get the autonomous robots to perform a task, all one needs to do is log on to a website, select a task, book a time slot, and it gets to work.

The robots were built by computer scientist Manuela Veloso and her colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

“Our CoBot robots follow a novel symbiotic autonomy, in which the robots are aware of their perceptual, physical, and reasoning limitations and proactively ask for help from humans, for example for object manipulation actions,” researchers wrote on the project’s website.

The team said they pursue research in particular in effective real-time mobile robot localization and navigation algorithms, symbiotic human-robot interaction, and multi-task multi-robot dynamic task planning. The CoBots are capable of autonomous localization and navigation by using the Microsoft Kinect depth-camera, WiFi and LIDAR.

“We envision a system in which autonomous mobile robots robustly perform service tasks in indoor environments,” the researchers wrote. “The robots perform tasks which are requested by building residents over the web, such as delivering mail, fetching coffee, or guiding visitors.”

CoBot is able to speak and display information on its screen and navigate to locations to seek help when it requires it. The robots are able to plan their paths and smoothly navigate autonomously by monitoring walls, calculating planar surfaces and plotting window and door locations.

The robots are able to avoid dynamic obstacles and even make notes about things like where the carpet and hardwood floor meet. They can also proactively ask for help from the web or from humans for locations and for assistance with tasks that they cannot do, like pressing elevator buttons and picking up objects to be carried.

“Humans have incentives to help the robots in order to increase the abilities of the robots to complete tasks for them,” the team wrote.

CoBots can also model human helpers in the environment to help out visitors, such as offering information about the building as they navigate guests between meetings. The robots can also help visitors find out more information about their meeting hosts.