Robots test their own world wide web, dubbed RoboEarth

Robot assistants will use the system to help patients The RoboEarth system will be tested in a hospital setting

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A world wide web for robots to learn from each other and share information is being shown off for the first time.

Scientists behind RoboEarth will put it through its paces at Eindhoven University in a mocked-up hospital room.

Four robots will use the system to complete a series of tasks, including serving drinks to patients.

It is the culmination of a four-year project, funded by the European Union.

The eventual aim is that both robots and humans will be able to upload information to the cloud-based database, which would act as a kind of common brain for machines.

Common brain

The system has been developed by research scientists from Philips and five European universities including Eindhoven.

"At its core RoboEarth is a world wide web for robots: a giant network and database repository where robots can share information and learn from each other," said Rene van de Molengraft, the RoboEarth project leader.

The four robots selected to test the system in a public demonstration will "work collaboratively" to help patients, he told the BBC.

One robot will upload a map of the room so that others can find their way around it, others will attempt to serve drinks to patients.

"The problem right now is that robots are often developed specifically for one task," he said.

"Everyday changes that happen all the time in our environment make all the programmed actions unusable."

The aim of the system is to create a kind of ever-changing common brain for robots.

"A task like opening a box of pills can be shared on RoboEarth, so other robots can also do it without having to be programmed for that specific type of box," he added.

Home robots

The cloud-based system will also mean that some of the robot's computing or thinking tasks can be offloaded, meaning that a robot wouldn't need so much onboard computing or battery power.

Robot assistants are likely to be available in homes within 10 years, experts believe.

It is already possible to buy robot vacuum cleaners, robots that wash the windows and robot lawnmowers.

More humanoid robots, able to assist disabled or elderly people, are now being developed.

Author James Barrat, who has written extensively about the dangers of robots gaining their own intelligence, thinks there need to be safeguards.

"In the short term, RoboEarth adds security by building in a single point of failure for all participating robots," he said.

"In the longer term, watch out when any of the nodes can evolve or otherwise improve their own software. The consequences of sharing that capability with the central 'mind' should be explored before it happens."

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