Personal robot functions as beer servant

20130531 Personal Robot Functions As Beer ServantAh, the classic piggyback maneuver, that situation where you and your friends are hanging out on the couch, the beer is getting low, and you all wait it out to see who will be the first to give in and get up for a fresh bottle. This move is then followed by a chorus of pretty-pleased requests to grab an entire round for the seated bunch with the stronger willpower.

Unless, of course, you’re home alone, and then you’ve got no one with whom to play your game of War of the Lazies.

Or unless, of course, you’ve got Willow Garage’s PR2. The robotics research lab and technology incubator has tweaked its personal robot model to fetch beer from a fridge. The PR2 uses a program called “Beer Me,” basically a virtual menu that lets a person select a beer and have it delivered to a pre-programmed location. The robot can even graciously open the bottle of beer for you, should you be unfortunately without an opener. This PR2 is limited to the functions programmed to operate with a computer vision system and the Beer Me web app.

Jivko Sinapov of Iowa State’s Developmental Robotics Laboratory took Willow Garage’s PR2 a step further by training the robot to detect when a bottle is empty. Rather than relying solely on data from laser scanners or cameras, the robot was manipulating its environment and interpreting the effect on its joints to learn how to distinguish between empty and full bottles.

These robots are not ready to take over the service industry any time soon, but they have been around for a while. PRs have been known for their towel-folding prowess, and have even entered the Food and Beverage industry. I’ve personally been entertained by a robot waiter at Hajime, a Japanese restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand. Not only are you served by the robot, but it also does an interesting breakdance performance.

The PR2’s skills are basic, but impressive. For personal use, it could be a useful techno-toy with parlor tricks to amuse your friends. But at your bar or restaurant, the robot could be a unique marketing ploy to lure in a steady stream of curious consumers.