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A new project allows people to upload a little bit of their world into a library for teaching robots. Kinect@Home asks people who own Microsoft Kinect units to scan something around them — it could be their living rooms, their offices, their friends — and upload the scan to the Kinect@Home database. Researchers will then use the 3D scans to teach robots about everyday environments.

As the engineers' magazine IEEE Spectrum explained:

Let's say that we want to teach a robot to open a refrigerator. To do that, a robot first has to recognize a refrigerator, but there are all kinds of different refrigerators and we have no idea what particular sort our robot is going to be asked to deal with. With a Kinect@Home dataset, it might be possible to go check out models of thousands of refrigerators in people's homes, and use those models to teach our robot how to locate (and even open) a generalized fridge. 

In return for volunteering a scan, Kinect@Home participants get a copy of the scan, which they can embed in a website or put into any 3D modeling program. The 3D models are coarse, but fun to explore. "Our vision is making and sharing 3D models of the real world as easy as making a Youtube video while helping science," Kinect@Home's organizers wrote on their website. 

To participate, people need to install a plug-in researchers have made and connect their Kinects to their computers. Wired has a detailed review of what installing and scanning is like.

The project comes from robotics researchers at the CAS Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. 

Sources: IEEE Spectrum, Kinect@Home, Wired

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