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Shared Online Brain Hopes To Make Robots Smarter And Cheaper At Once


Robots are heavy, metal, clumsy, and expensive, but we generally assume they eventually plan on taking over. Still, they’re far from being intelligent — or organized — enough to do so. How to remedy this? Well, maybe we could outsource all the processing power that makes them so heavy and expensive? What if we could put their brains into the cloud, let them communicate with one another, and then trust them to use the information they get there to help us out? That’s just what a bunch of European researchers are doing, and it’s not really as scary as it sounds.

It’s not like we humans are doing anything productive with the Internet. Why not give it to the machines? They like to work. Getting them to work together is a neat trick, though, and one that has stymied researchers on a number of fronts. This weekend saw the launch of one possible solution, though. The RoboEarth Cloud Engine is a collaborative work of five universities in Europe, including Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The goal is to make robots smarter, leaner, and cheaper to build. The latest platform from RoboEarth — Platform as a Service (PaaS) — would allow robots connected to it to benefit from a collective database of information online in their own WWW-style database. In turn, that could speed up their ability to learn and adapt to the ever-changing chaos of the meatspace.

We can also allow them to stack plywood and large discs in the cloud.

This isn’t just about putting a bunch of robots in a virtual think tank and letting them do their thing. It’s also about getting them to serve us more efficiently. If they can access an “enterprise-scale computing infrastructure” of information, they can map, navigate, and process the voice commands we give them much faster than if they had to amble about with an on-board computer brain.

Mohanarajah Gajamohan, the Technical Lead of the project, explains:

“The RoboEarth Cloud Engine is particularly useful for mobile robots, such as drones or autonomous cars, which require lots of computation for navigation. It also offers significant benefits for robot co-workers, such as factory robots working alongside humans, which require large knowledge databases, and for the deployment of robot teams.”

Imagine how much slimmer R2-D2 would have been if he wasn’t limited by on-board computation. He was short, but you can tell he was heavy and had to work within his own database. But what if he could have accessed a proper Wi-Fi network? That whole search-the-moon-of-Endor business might have been avoided. With all the mobile communication devices we use in our galaxy, and the greater demand for more and more wireless access, it only makes sense to give our droids some of the bandwidth.

Here is the RoboEarth Cloud Engine concept in a nutshell.

So the builder of the robots is named Igor? That’s not at all sinister. In any case, I can well imagine Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg getting behind this business of more efficient robots.

(PhysOrg, images courtesy of,, and Dan Coulter on Flickr)

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