Dr. Markus Waibel of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich believes that what’s holding robots back is their inability to send and receive new information over the internet like humans do. To combat this problem, and hopefully propel robot development in the process, the Swiss team are developing RoboEarth — a repository of data that robots can use to learn new tasks and expand through their own experiences.
The Swiss team argues that roboticists end up having to re-invent the wheel for their projects because they cannot simply share the information easily. Furthermore, their creations are themselves limited by their programmed knowledge. Place them in a novel environment, and they will have to maticulously sort it out for themselves. With RoboEarth, a compendium of knowledge could enable faster development and more robust functions, with each new piece of information enriching robots everywhere. From the BBC:
Dr Waibel said it would be a place that would teach robots about the objects that fill the human world and their relationships to each other.
For instance, he said, RoboEarth could help a robot understand what is meant when it is asked to set the table and what objects are required for that task to be completed.
There are of course, some issues with this plan. Firstly, all the data would have to accessible in a universal format for the robots to use. A Roomba, for instance, would need to speak the same language as an automatic welder in a Ford plant. Secondly, a commercial enterprise might not necessarily want to share it’s information over RoboEarth, hoping that it’s proprietary programming would give it an edge on the market. Thirdly, there would need to be careful safeguards to ensure that malicious, or just flawed instructions weren’t loaded in to RoboEarth. This is, obviously, a grand plan, and the work being done now purely foundational.
Since I am but a lowly blogger, I assume that the giant Swiss brains in Zurich have already thought of these problems. If the implementation goes forward and it is adopted, it could form the backbone for future robot development. Perhaps, through free and easy sharing of knowledge, the field of robotics may be able to take a huge leap forward. That free exchange of knowledge was the foundational concept that birthed the internet, and that worked out swimmingly, right?
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