UPDATE: Menglong Zhu, the UPenn researcher who taught the PR2 to read, contacted us to say that the robot, named Graspy, took issue with our headline. Graspy says it can indeed pronounce “robot,” and here's the audio to prove it.
Teaching a robot to read out in the wild is no easy task, thanks in large part to the propensity of graphic designers (along with us normal people) to use a bewildering number of different fonts and colors to better communicate creative vision, mood, or just general boredom with Helvetica.
The University of Pennsylvania's GRASP Lab has conquered these factors, along with such things as variable lighting and distance, and has gotten their PR2 (named "Graspy") to wander around, reading things non-stop in a monotone and perhaps slightly confused voice. This newfound literacy will be available for download for both PR2s and generalized ROS platforms, which means that you can give your robot a huge brain upgrade and vastly increase its interactive capabilities with just a few simple clicks.
Two questions remain unanswered, though: can it read Wingdings, and will it, on principle, read something written in Comic Sans?
[ GRASP Lab ]