ROSIE DO MY LAUNDRY!
- Published on August 29th, 2012
Last month I was invited to participate in a research conducted by Willow Garage in Palo Alto. Being a recent graduate looking for a job, not much kept me from taking on the opportunity and check out what this research was all about. I decided to do the one hour commute from San Francisco hoping that my trip there would result in learning about research techniques that these fellows are implementing.
As soon as I arrived to their facilities, I was welcomed by one of the researchers, a young thirty-year old Turkish female. After a short conversation about our day, she began telling me about the research. This consisted of teaching a robot how to do basic tasks within the home such as folding clothes, re-arranging objects, and moving them around.
The robot would listen to my instructions and do as I directed. I would hold the robot in the desired position, guiding it step-by-step so it would be able to repeat the movement and reach towards the object.
To do this, I had to read a simple manual and program the robot to do the task. According to the manual, the robot would listen to my instructions and do as I directed. I would hold the robot in the desired position, guiding it step-by-step so it would be able to repeat the movement and reach towards the object. It was a very tedious process, and one that frustrated me by having to think in terms of how the robot would be able to perform such tasks within its capabilities. For example, in one of the tasks I had to teach the robot to fold a simple piece of cloth. This task became a rather frustrating activity since the robot's hands and basic movements made the task very challenging for it to perform. After many trial and errors, I was able to complete all the tasks I was supposed to teach the robot as part of the research. The research resumed with a short survey that I had to fill out about my experiences with the robot.
After leaving the facilities and on my way back to San Francisco, I could not stop thinking about the interactions I had with the robot. How fascinating it was to be standing next to this fellow, it was like meeting an alien. I remember one time I had a similar feeling like this one, about twenty years ago when I first used a computer. Obviously, back then the technology was limited and way before windows 95. But there was still something unique about just being able to navigate the systems, as if machines had finally learned how to talk to us. Now just a couple of decades later technology is moving towards having machines behave like us, not just think like us. This is a bright and exciting idea, but also opens the door for uncertainty. What happens when robots can do everything we do? Would the future be like that of the Jetsons with a Rosie lying around everyone's home, we can definitely see that coming especially after the launch of Roomba.