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Care-O-Bot, your future robotic butler

German researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute have introduced their third generation of household robots, the Care-O-Bot 3. The previous generations of this mobile robot assistant were designed to assist elderly or handicapped people in daily life activities. But now, this new 1.45 meter-high robot is intended to be an artificial assistant always at your service, even if you're young and in good health. It moves on 4 spherical wheels in any direction and has a large array of sensors to ensure it will never hurt you. With it 3-finger hand, it can handle a bottle of apple juice or champagne put on its front tray. It will then wait until you ask it to pour a glass for you. Sorry, I don't know when it becomes commercially available. But read more...
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Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

German researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute have introduced their third generation of household robots, the Care-O-Bot 3. The previous generations of this mobile robot assistant were designed to assist elderly or handicapped people in daily life activities. But now, this new 1.45 meter-high robot is intended to be an artificial assistant always at your service, even if you're young and in good health. It moves on 4 spherical wheels in any direction and has a large array of sensors designed to ensure it will never hurt you. With it 3-finger hand, it can handle a bottle of apple juice or champagne put on its front tray. It will then wait until you ask it to pour a glass for you. Sorry, I don't know when it becomes commercially available. But read more...

Care-O-bot 3 serving a drink

As you can see above, when the Care-O-bot 3 serves a drink, it seems to be able to handle delicate champagne glasses. (Credit: Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation or IPA)

Here are some details about this robot. "How does the robot know where to find the items it needs? And what has been done to make sure the robot does not inadvertently touch a human with its arm? It is fitted with numerous sensors to prevent this from happening. Stereo-vision color cameras, laser scanners and a 3-D range camera enable Care-O-bot 3 to register its surroundings in three dimensions in real time. If a person moves into the radius of its arm, it stops moving. Another feature of the small, flexible helper is that it can move in any direction. 'This is made possible by an omnidirectional platform with four separately steered and driven wheels,' explains Birgit Graf, who heads the domestic and personal service robotics group at IPA. 'In this way, the robot can even pass safely through narrow places in an apartment.' The new Care-O-bot has a highly flexible arm with seven degrees of freedom and a hand with three fingers. This allows it to pick up bottles, cups and similar objects and to operate machines."

As you have seen above, "a tray is mounted at the front of the robot, on which Care-O-Bot can carry items such as the requested cup of coffee. Integrated in the tray is a touch screen via 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,' explains Graf. Numerous household articles are stored in the robot's databases. It knows, for example, what a cup looks like and where to find it in the kitchen. It can also learn to recognize new objects. The user simply places the unfamiliar object in the robot’s hand so that it can gain a three-dimensional impression of the item."

For more information about this robotic assistant, here are some links to the Care-O-bot home page, to the Care-O-bot 3 and to its detailed description (PDF format, 2 pages, 4.13 MB). The above picture has been extracted from this document.

Here are some of the major characteristics of the Care-O-bot 3 listed in its product sheet.

  • Omnidirectional Navigation: Care-O-bot 3 has an omnidirectional platform, with four steered and driven wheels. This kinematic system enables the robot to move in any desired direction and therefore also safely to negotiate narrow passages.
  • Safe Manipulation: Care-O-bot 3 is equipped with a highly flexible, commercial arm with seven degrees of freedom as well as with a three-finger hand. This makes it capable of gripping and operating a large number of different everyday objects.
  • 3D Environment Detection: A multiplicity of sensors enables Care-O-bot 3 to detect the environment in which it is operating. These range from stereo vision colour cameras and laser scanners to a 3D depth-image camera.
  • Software Architecture/Middleware: Several interlinked computers are used to evaluate and control the sensors and actuators inside the robot. The system resources are coordinated and managed by a specially developed middleware which controls communications between the individual processes and which reacts appropriately in the event of a malfunction.
  • Human-Machine Interaction: The primary interface between Care-Obot 3 and the user consists of a tray attached to the front of the robot, which carries objects for exchange between the human and the robot. The tray includes a touch screen and retracts automatically when not in use. A laser projector on the gripper also enables the robot to project information onto objects.

As wrote IPA, "all in all, Care-O-bot 3 is safer, smaller and more marketable than its predecessor." But the Fraunhofer Institute doesn't say anything about delivery dates or prices for this butler.

Sources: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Research News 07-2008, Topic 7; and various websites

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