WALT DISNEY’S film version of “Mary Poppins” features a scene in which, at a click of the protagonist’s fingers, cupboards, drawers, bedside tables and trunks fly open and her young charges’ clothes and toys leap inside them. Self-tidying clothes and toys are still some way away, unfortunately. But furniture that collaborates, Poppins-like, with its owners may be just around the corner.
If groups of researchers working on the idea in America and Europe have their way, you may soon be able to call a robot footstool, so that you can put your feet up at the end of a long day, make use of a robotic toolbox when doing-it-yourself of a weekend and even—yes—install a robot toybox in the nursery that will encourage your children to tidy up after themselves.
These devices and others like them will, their inventors hope, plug a gap in the market between basic robotic appliances such as Roomba, an autonomous vacuum cleaner made by iRobot, and multipurpose ’droids like Pepper, a humanoid domestic servant launched recently by Softbank. The secret of success, they believe, is not just to devise furnishings that will do what they are told, but to give them personalities, convincing their owners that communication with them is a two-way process. At the moment, only prototypes are available—and, for reasons of safety, these are ultimately under the control of human supervisors, rather than being fully automatic. But trials suggest some forms of robotic furniture like this would, indeed, find a ready market.
One device with obvious commercial potential is a robot rubbish bin that can tour places like fast-food restaurants, soliciting trash. This was invented by Wendy Ju and David Sirkin, of Stanford University. Tests have shown it to be popular with customers. The robot approaches a table and wiggles on the spot to gain attention. People quickly get the idea of what they are supposed to do, and respond accordingly—even looking around for extra rubbish to feed the robot.
Francesco Mondada, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, has used a similar approach to encourage children to tidy up their toys. His mobile toybox is a wheeled crate adorned with rotating eyes and colourful lights. It wanders around a room until it spots a toy on the floor. It then stops, appears to look at the toy with its eyes, and wiggles and flashes to prompt the miscreant who has left it there to put it into the crate.
The Latest on: Robotic furniture
via Google News
The Latest on: Robotic furniture
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