This could be it, folks. The one killer application that the entire robotics world has been waiting for. It's bold, it's daring, it's potentially transformative, and you know you want it.
Ben Cohen and his colleagues from the GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania devoted literally an entire weekend to programming their PR2 robot, Graspy, to handle POOPs. POOPs (Potentially Offensive Objects for Pickup) are managed by the robot using a customized POOP SCOOP (Perception Of Offensive Products and Sensorized Control Of Object Pickup) routine. While POOP can be just about anything that you'd rather not have to pick up yourself, in this particular case, the POOP does happen to be poop, since arguably, poop is the worst kind of POOP.*
Oh yes, there absolutely is video:
While you can't hear it in the video, Graspy begins its task by declaring in a vaguely disappointed robotic monotone, "time for me to scoop some poop." You get the sense that this $400,000 robot is asking itself whether or not this kind of work is really what it signed up for. Using its color camera, the robot first identifies poops based on their color, navigates to said poop, and then using a special human tool, it performs the scoop. Haptics are employed to ensure that each poop scoop is a success, and if not, the robot will give it another try. Failure doesn't happen often, though: Graspy is able to successfully scoop poop about 95% of the time in over 100 trials, at a rate of over one poop per minute.
There's still some work to do be done in order to get PR2 scooping poop like a pro (or an obedient human). For example, it's currently only able to handle high fiber poop, although that may be solvable with a different tool. If you think you have a clever way of making PR2 a better poop scooper, you can download the POOP SCOOP ROS stack and contribute to the betterment of humanity through robotics at the link below.
"POOP SCOOP: Perception Of Offensive Products and Sensorized Control Of Object Pickup" was presented at the PR2 workshop at IROS 2011.
[ ROS Wiki ]
[ GRASP Lab ]
*My guess is that this is an IEEE Spectrum record for the most uses of the word "poop" in one single sentence.
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.