CMU's AndyVision Robot Is In Your Store, Doing Your Inventory

This hoodie-clad robot is taking over in Carnegie Mellon's campus bookstore

1 min read
CMU's AndyVision Robot Is In Your Store, Doing Your Inventory

Underneath that color-coordinated hoodie is AndyVision, Carnegie Mellon's inventory assistance robot. It's programmed to take over the utter drudgery* of daily retail inventory, helping stores figure out what customers want and customers figure out how to get it.

You'll probably recognize the Kinect sensor underneath AndyVision's hoody, and he's also got a fairly simple mobile base with sonar for obstacle avoidance. Using Kinect, AndyVision scans store shelves to count items for inventory (using contextual object recognition), and will wirelessly alert store staff to low stock, no stock, or items that have been misplaced. Meanwhile, customers get access to real-time data on what items are where and how many are left. The technology involved isn't anything new and crazy, but this is a great example of a (relatively) simple robot being used to do valuable autonomous work in a commercial environment.

AndyVision is a project from the Intel Science and Technology Center (ISTC) at CMU, and he's part of its "Retail 2020" project to "transform the retail landscape." He's fairly retail-futuristic as is, but ISTC has bigger plans for the future, where "in-store robots might handle tasks such as folding clothing items, stocking shelves, and helping customers to locate items and load their purchases into their cars." Note that none of this stuff is really that futuristic, and it could be closer to "Retail 2015" than "Retail 2020." All it's going to take as an inexpensive and easy to use platform, some clever programming, and willingness on the retail side to try out something new.

[ ITSC ] via [ Tech Review ]

*I speak from experience, having done retail inventory. It's not fun.

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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