“Welcome to your new home, now please solve this Rubik’s Cube.” – when you’re a robot, people greet you in some funny ways. No sooner had Willow Garage’s PR2 shown up to the University of Ulster than they set it to work…er, play. Chris Burbridge and Lorenzo Riano of the Cognitivie Robotics Group taught their newly arrived PR2 to solve a Rubik’s Cube completely autonomously. Place the cube in the robot’s hand and it scans, solves, and shifts the puzzle until it is finished. Watch the PR2 master this icon of the 80s in the video below. Little demos like this are just cute introductions to a much more serious endeavor. As one of the growing number of research institutions using the PR2 as an open source development platform, the Cognitive Robotics Group at the University of Ulster is helping create the next generation of personal robots, one piece of code at a time.
I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve seen robots solve Rubik’s Cube way faster than the PR2…and they were made out of Lego. In fact, the PR2 is slow enough that in order to keep this video a reasonable length (<2 minutes or so) they gave it a really easy cube to solve. Yet the following demonstration is remarkable when you consider everything the robot is doing. It has to rotate the cube and scan its surface, find a (potentially sub-optimal) solution, and then translate that solution into physical movements for its hands. That’s a lot of work for a measly 2 minute demo, but it highlights just how complete the PR2 is: manual manipulation, sensing, calculation, and translation of digital models into physical actions. All autonomously. Not bad for an opening act – either for the PR2 or Burbridge and Riano.
Willow Garage’s PR2 is one of dozens of bots using the Robot Operating System (ROS). This open source library is the digital soul to the PR2’s metallic body. As the University of Ulster, and the more than 15 other institutions using the PR2, continue to innovate its code on ROS, they’ll be opening up many opportunities for their work to earn compound interest. Code developed by one team can be cannibalized, optimized, and reused by any other team. The same goes, in a slightly more limited way, for the hundreds of developers using ROS on platforms other than the PR2. The arrival of the newest metal member of the Cognitive Robotics Group speaks to the possibility that personal robots could be undergoing an accelerated growth in the near future fueled by the open source community. That’s pretty exciting.
Speaking of excitement, I’ll leave you with this video the Cognitive Robotics Group made of the PR2’s arrival last month. For anyone who has unwrapped a long awaited gift, the reaction will seem very familiar. Keep up the enthusiasm guys, and push yourselves to create even better demos. Next time I want to see the PR2 throwing Pop Rocks into a soda can, dancing to Thriller, or following the flashing lights of Simon. I’m just going with the 80s theme here…