The December 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)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

Keep Reading ↓Show less