Friday, May 30, 2014

The Day The Towel-folding Robot Overlords Came Into Our Lives

Who can forget where they were when they first saw this:

From IEEE Spectrum:

So, Where Are My Robot Servants?
Tomorrow’s robots will become true helpers and companions in people’s homes—and here’s what it will take to develop them

Four years ago, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, uploaded a video to YouTube. It featured a demonstration they’d done using a powerful new robot called PR2, a dishwasher-size machine with two hefty arms and six camera eyes on its face. In the demo, PR2 stands before a disorderly pile of small towels. Then, slowly but surely, it stretches its arms, picks up a towel, and neatly folds it, even patting it gently to smooth out the wrinkles. The robot repeats the routine until no more towels are left in the heap.
The researchers were pleased with their work, but they didn’t quite expect what came next: Their video went viral. Within days, hundreds of thousands of people watched it as news of the robot spread through social media and the blogosphere. Reports popped up on newscasts and publications around the world. One Twitter user humorously summed up what the achievement might portend: “I, for one, welcome our towel-folding robot overlords.”

This robotic laundry experiment had obviously struck a nerve. The idea of robots doing chores around the house has long captured people’s imaginations. For some, robots would mean freedom from tasks they don’t have time for or don’t want to do. For others, robots would mean even more: They would help them live independently longer, providing care and perhaps even some degree of companionship.

It’s disappointing, then, that other than robotic toys and vacuum cleaners, robots are a rare sight in our homes today. And yet, here we are, still eagerly waiting for this technology to blossom. So, where are the robot servants?

Some recent developments suggest that they might not be too far away. Processors, sensors, and other components that robots need have gotten much better and cheaper, propelled by advances in smartphone technology....MORE