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
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 ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.