Before robots take over the world, we should put them to good use, right? At least, that seems to be the rationale behind the latest robot-oriented project at MIT, through which engineers have programmed robots not only to cooperate with one another, but to do so in the name of delivering beer. The Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the prestigious school has programmed a trio of robots to bring beer and other beverages to thirsty patrons, creating the most high-tech bartender ever. While the set-up behind the process seems simple, the technology that went into the actual programming is much more complicated than initially anticipated.
In the futuristic bartending situation, one of two Turtlebots — small robots that closely resemble coolers on wheels — travel around a room (or from room to room), asking humans if they would care for a drink. If the answer is “yes,” the Turtlebot returns to a larger PR2 robot, which places the beverage into the cooler, whereupon it is then delivered to the waiting patron. Not only does this require an intensive amount of coordination among these machines, but it also forces them to navigate dynamic situations, in which locations (of both the robots and humans) are constantly in flux.
While this may seem like a relatively trivial task to begin with, researchers are excited about the possibilities that such technology unlocks. According to Popular Science, MIT believes that this cooperative, responsive system could ultimately be utilized in hospital or emergency settings, where quick and efficient delivery of supplies is just as (alright, more) important as in a cocktail party. In a YouTube video showcasing these robotic accomplishments, MIT’s Ariel Anders explains, “This work tries to post the problem in a more general framework that given what we call macro actions you could use the planner that we have to go out and solve a problem.”
Today, that problem is beer. But tomorrow, bigger and better things may be on the horizon.