The August 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Herb Learns to Microwave Frozen Dinners, Robot Research Can Stop Now

CMU teaches their robot butler, Herb, to zap TV dinners in a microwave

1 min read
Herb Learns to Microwave Frozen Dinners, Robot Research Can Stop Now

Herb, the Home Exploring Robot Butler, has been hard at work at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute learning how to be, well, a home exploring robot butler. Siddhartha Srinivasa's group has effectively ended robotics research as we know it by teaching Herb to microwave frozen food. Yep, that's it, no more funding, no more papers, no more conferences: robots can now do everything we could ever want.

Seriously though, when people talk about what they want robots to be able to do for them at home, cooking is right up there with cleaning, dish washing, laundry, ironing, and moving heavy things. This is because it's an activity that's complicated and labor intensive, but at the same time, cooking is really just following sets of rules, which is something that robots are generally very good at. The tough part is teaching the robot to find its way around a kitchen to the extent that it's able to collect all of the necessary materials and combine them using the proper equipment.

Microwaving a frozen meal is, admittedly, about as minimalist as you can go when it comes to cooking, but that's why lazy busy people like me live off them almost exclusively. And it's impossible to estimate just how much our lives might be improved if Herb could handle even just this basic task, which, now, it can:

Herb, like most robots, was not always this talented. In fact, his career was touch and go for a little bit, until he eventually learned to do something useful:

Yes. The Macarena apparently does now count as "something useful." My, how far we've come.

[ CMU Robotics ]

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page
Blue

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

Keep Reading ↓Show less