Washington, July 11 : Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart are working on a new generation of household robots that may one day relieve people of heavy, dirty, and often irksome tasks.
They have even created a one-armed model of such robots, named 'Care-O-bot-3'.
With its three fingers, the robot can carefully pick up the bottle of apple juice, and put it next to the glasses on the tray in front of it.
The only 1.45 meters high Care-O-bot-3 can even serve drinks to guests.
The researchers have fitted the robot with numerous sensors that enable it to know where to find the items it needs, and to ensure that it does not inadvertently touch a human with its arm.
Stereo-vision colour cameras, laser scanners, and a three-dimensional range camera help the robot to register its surroundings in three dimensions in real time.
The robot, which can move in any direction, stops moving as soon as it detects a person within the radius of its arm.
"This is made possible by an omnidirectional platform with four separately steered and driven wheels. In this way, the robot can even pass safely through narrow places in an apartment," says Birgit Graf, who heads the domestic and personal service robotics group at IPA.
The robot has also been fixed with force sensors that prevent it from gripping objects too hard.
It has a tray is mounted at the front of its body on which it can carry items like a cup of coffee.
The tray also has a touch screen through which the assistant can be controlled.
"But the robot can also be directed by spoken commands. Unlike its predecessors, it can even recognize and respond to gestures," says Graf.
The researchers have stored numerous household articles in the robot's databases, and it now knows what a cup looks like and where to find it in the kitchen.
The robot can also learn to recognize new objects by gaining their three-dimensional impressions.
However, the new robot does not look like a human being.
"We deliberately moved away from the existing, humanoid service robots when we designed Care-O-bot-3," stresses project manager Christopher Parlitz.