Instant Guide

The 'awesome' kitchen robots that prepare sandwiches

That "Jetsons" future is coming: A team of German robots is demonstrating unprecedented culinary skill

How do you make generally charmless robots a little less intimidating? One word: breakfast. Take James and Rosie, two PR2 bots that are programmed to whip up meals with little more than a simple instruction. Here, a guide to the "awesome" domesticated androids built by artificial intelligence researchers at the Technical University of Munich and Willow Garage:

What do they do? 
The real "beauty" of James and Rosie is that they're able to cook up food "without needing any additional programming," says Elizabeth Fish at PC World. Though the two robots were once only capable of making pancakes and sausages, they're now able to serve up sandwiches and stove-popped popcorn. Commands like "Make me a sandwich" will cause the bots to whir around the kitchen, toasting bread, laying out meat and cheese, and spreading any condiments before stacking your meal.

How are they able to do it?
The robots are outfitted with "reasoning mechanisms" which help them make on-the-fly decisions around the kitchen, rather than decisions that are "preprogrammed," says Nancy Owano at PhysOrg. The bots use the "visual-detection systems from an Xbox Kinect" to observe their surroundings, and have "perception algorithms to assess surroundings," "make inferences about what they see," and "execute their tasks" at hand — just like a human. For now, the robots are limited to working in their test kitchen, but could someday perform these actions in unfamiliar contexts.

And this is the future?
The robots are part of the school's Cognitive Robot Abstract Machine program, or CRAM. The project's goal is to create "a set of software tools to design and deploy robots that use cognition to manipulate items," notes Owano, which includes tasks like laundry and other household chores. In other words, they're part of a line of bots specifically built to do all the hard work so you don't have to. Besides, says Fish, "Everyone loves a good sandwich."

Sources: PhysOrgPC WorldSpectrum IEEE

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