New CoBots are ‘help on wheels’

Meet CoBot–short for “Collaborative Robot.” You might call it “help on wheels.” With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), computer scientist Manuela Veloso and her team at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are developing CoBots, autonomous indoor service robots to interact with people and provide help “on the go.”

Getting on a CoBot’s dance card is simple: log on to a website, select a task, book a time slot–and CoBot is on the job. If one CoBot is too busy, then another will carry out the request. CoBots can transport objects, deliver messages, escort people and go to places, continuously executing these tasks over multiple weeks in a multi-floor building. The robustness of the mobile robot’s localization and navigation has permitted it to travel non-accompanied for hundreds of kilometers in a building.

CoBots are able to plan their paths and smoothly navigate autonomously. They monitor the walls, calculate planar surfaces, and plot window and door locations–all while avoiding dynamic obstacles and even making notes about things like where the carpet and hardwood floor meet. Aware of their limitations, CoBots also proactively ask for help from the web or from humans for locations and for assistance with tasks that they cannot do, such as pressing elevator buttons and picking up objects to be carried.

yeti500Besides Veloso, CoBots team members are Herbert A. Simon, Computer Science Department; Joydeep Biswas, doctoral student, Robotics Institute; Brian Coltin, doctoral student, Robotics Institute; Tom Kollar, postdoctoral fellow, Computer Science Department; Vittorio Perera, doctoral student, Computer Science Department; Mehdi Samadi, doctoral student, Computer Science Department; and Stephanie Rosenthal, doctoral student, Computer Science Department–all at CMU–and visiting doctoral students in CMU’s Computer Science Department Robin Soetens, from University of Eindhoven, the Netherlands; and Yichao Sun, from Zheijhang University, China.

The team received advice from Illah Nourbakhsh, professor, CMU’s Robotics Institute; Reid Simmons, professor, CMU’s Robotics Institute; Alex Rudnicky, professor, CMU’s Computer Science Department; Aaron Steinfeld, professor, CMU’s Robotics Institute; and Daniele Nardi, visiting professor from University La Sapienza, Rome, Italy.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1218932, Robust Intelligence (RI): Small: Natural Language-Based Human Instruction for Task Embedded Robots, and award #1012733, Human Centered Computing (HCC): Large: SSCI-MISR: Symbiotic, Spatial, Coordinated Human-Robot Interaction for Multiple Indoor Service Robots.

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