New Robot Delivers Snacks

Snackbot has two jobs. One is to serve as a research platform for projects in robotics, design, and behavioral science. The other is to serve snacks. (Image credit: Carnegie Mellon University)

Rrobotics researchers at Carnegie Mellon University get hungry at work just like you do. Unlike you, however, they can create robot minions to bring them food. Their latest creation is Snackbot, an autonomous mobile robot whose mission is to bring tasty treats.

"Snackbot is a mobile robot, about the size of a very small human, that rolls around on wheels, and will be delivering snacks to students, faculty, and office workers at Carnegie Mellon University," according to its inventors.

"Snackbot is meant as an ongoing platform for research," they write. "The Snackbot will support research into robust autonomous operation in office environments. Our efforts range from multi-sensor fusion algorithms for perception, reasoning about dynamic spaces,communicating with people through verbal and non-verbal mechanisms, and planning with incomplete information.

"The research will allow the robot to navigate through congested areas in a socially acceptable fashion, detect individual people moving near the robot, recognize when someone that the robot knows approaches it, and autonomously learn to recognize new objects."

Carnegie Mellon's web site insists that Snackbot is a research platform on all kinds of cool topics, like "behavioral science research on such topics as personalization" and "people’s relationships with interactive objects". But I think that CMU researchers want fresh snacks! And why shouldn't they? Hard working engineers who build our robotic future need fuel, just like the robots they build.

Of course, clean-up is important, too. That's why researchers at Intel Research's Personal Robotics project have been working on a robotic busboy to clean up those plates and glasses.

Science fiction writers have done everything they can to prepare us for this futuristic idea. For example, fans may recall Star Wars' Artoo Detoo serving food on Jabba's sail barge. And don't forget the waitress robot WA-7, the robotic waitress from Dex's Diner in Star Wars II Attack of the Clones.

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Bill Christensen catalogues the inventions, technology and ideas of science fiction writers at his website, Technovelgy. He is a contributor to Live Science.