Robot Learns After School


by Douglas Black, May 8, 2013



After the floor was swept, doors shut, and all the technicians went home, HERB was alone.  Within sight and arms reach, a couple of items from the lunch menu were left on a table.  HERB was curious.  By morning the robot knew a great deal about a bag of bagels and a pineapple.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are developing the Home Exploring Robot Butler (HERB) project in the Personal Robotics Lab, directed by Siddhartha Srinivasa.

Teaching a robot to recognize encountered objects usually requires tedious data entry done manually by technicians.

“Humans do it naturally: We look at a scene and can immediately understand it, identifying objects and things in it,” Srinivasa explained in an email to NBC News.

“A robot with this ability will be able to interact semantically with the world. It will then also be able to interact better with us because it is able to have a common semantic model of the world with us.”

The robot uses color video, a Kinect depth camera and non-visual information to build digital images of objects, which for its purposes are defined as something it can lift.

The depth camera is particularly useful, as it provides three-dimensional shape data. Other information HERB collects include the object’s location – on the floor, on a table, or in a cupboard. It can determine if it moves, and whether it is in a particular place at a particular time – say, mail in a mail slot.

Artificial Intelligence as a whole is a rapidly growing science, led in part by Google’s research into the way our brain works.  Scientists say we can expect computers of the near future to be vastly more powerful, and faster than the best of today.  Ray Kurzweil, newly named chief scientist at Google, even think we will see the “singularity”, or point at which AI surpasses the human mind in capacity and will then act in tandem with mankind’s advancement, by the year 2029.

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Douglas Black

Douglas Black

About Douglas Black

Douglas Black is a photographer, fast car geek, and futurist.  Author of several books including i.STRUCTURE; A Trilogy of Vision and View available at

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