Robots to get their own internet

Hospital lift, Getty RoboEarth could help robots get to work in novel environments much more quickly

Related Stories

Robots could soon have an equivalent of the internet and Wikipedia.

European scientists have embarked on a project to let robots share and store what they discover about the world.

Called RoboEarth it will be a place that robots can upload data to when they master a task, and ask for help in carrying out new ones.

Researchers behind it hope it will allow robots to come into service more quickly, armed with a growing library of knowledge about their human masters.

Share plan

The idea behind RoboEarth is to develop methods that help robots encode, exchange and re-use knowledge, said RoboEarth researcher Dr Markus Waibel from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

"Most current robots see the world their own way and there's very little standardisation going on," he said. Most researchers using robots typically develop their own way for that machine to build up a corpus of data about the world.

Start Quote

The key is allowing robots to share knowledge. That's really new”

End Quote Dr Markus Waibel

This, said Dr Waibel, made it very difficult for roboticists to share knowledge or for the field to advance rapidly because everyone started off solving the same problems.

By contrast, RoboEarth hopes to start showing how the information that robots discover about the world can be defined so any other robot can find it and use it.

RoboEarth will be a communication system and a database, he said.

In the database will be maps of places that robots work, descriptions of objects they encounter and instructions for how to complete distinct actions.

The human equivalent would be Wikipedia, said Dr Waibel.

"Wikipedia is something that humans use to share knowledge, that everyone can edit, contribute knowledge to and access," he said. "Something like that does not exist for robots."

It would be great, he said, if a robot could enter a location that it had never visited before, consult RoboEarth to learn about that place and the objects and tasks in it and then quickly get to work.

While other projects are working on standardising the way robots sense the world and encode the information they find, RoboEarth tries to go further.

"The key is allowing robots to share knowledge," said Dr Waibel. "That's really new."

RoboEarth is likely to become a tool for the growing number of service and domestic robots that many expect to become a feature in homes in coming decades.

Dr Waibel said it would be a place that would teach robots about the objects that fill the human world and their relationships to each other.

For instance, he said, RoboEarth could help a robot understand what is meant when it is asked to set the table and what objects are required for that task to be completed.

The EU-funded project has about 35 researchers working on it and hopes to demonstrate how the system might work by the end of its four-year duration.

Early work has resulted in a way to download descriptions of tasks that are then executed by a robot. Improved maps of locations can also be uploaded.

A system such as RoboEarth was going to be essential, said Dr Waibel, if robots were going to become truly useful to humans.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Technology stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • StuntmanStuntman to the stars

    Driving dangerously and falling off buildings are all part of the day job for Bobby Holland Hanton

Programmes

  • A digger operated via an Oculus Rift and a controllerClick Watch

    Why controlling a heavy digger with a virtual reality helmet might improve safety

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.