• Question: can you build me a robot to tidy my room so i have more time to do my science homework?

    Asked by tcarder07 to Alan on 14 Mar 2011 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Alan Winfield

      Alan Winfield answered on 14 Mar 2011:

      Hah! Yes that would be great!

      In fact vacuum cleaner robots already exist – an example is iRobot’s Roomba robot. The problem is the Roomba can only vacuum the floor and nothing else – it can’t put away your stuff, fold your clothes, put your pizza boxes in the bin, clean the windows, make the bed – or any of the other things to really properly tidy your room.

      To do that you would need a kind of general purpose intelligent ‘butler’ robot. I’m afraid that, right now, we cannot build such a robot, although it may be possible in the future (but not for some years).

      The reason is that a general purpose intelligent butler-bot, like the ones in the move i-Robot, are very hard indeed to design and build – and way beyond our current technology. The main reason is not the mechanical design because we can already build quite life-like person sized ‘humanoid’ or ‘android’ robots. Thus, we can already make the butler-bot’s ‘body’.

      The problem is butler-bot’s artificial ‘brain’. Although you might think that some of the tasks that you would want your butler-bot to perform are quite simple, like making the bed for instance, in fact they are really complicated. To see just how complicated here’s a simple experiment you can do yourself. Ask you brother or sister, or a friend, to pretend to be a robot. They will not move at all unless you issue very precise commands, like ‘move left arm up 6 cm’ or ‘open right hand’. You will quickly find that even getting them to move their hands to your duvet, gripping it, and then pulling it in the right directions to make the bed, takes loads of precise commands. And a butler-bot would have to work out how to do all of this on its own.

      For these reasons, most current robots are not general purpose robots that can do everything, but robots that do only one thing, like the vacuum cleaning robot I mentioned earlier. I think that we will have more and more robots in our homes in the next few years, but these will not be general purpose butler-bots, instead they will be much simpler robots that just do one or two things, like cleaning the floor, or keeping watch on your house if you’re away, or perhaps helping with weeding your garden.

      Grear question! I hope this helps to answer it.