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Toilet-scrubbing robot takes over one of the world’s crappiest jobs

[World Robot Summit 2018] Robot cleans toilet autonomously

When it comes to jobs that none of us enjoy, scrubbing the toilet would have to rank pretty highly. So why not hand the job over to robots? That might be exactly what happens if a team of engineers from the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany has its way. Calling themselves Team Homer, the researchers recently debuted just such a toilet-scrubbing bot at Japan’s World Robot Summit. While their creation still needs work, if perfected it has the makings of a product we’d be more than happy to pay good cash to get our hands on.

“We [used] a PAL Robotics TIAGo mobile robotic research platform, which is equipped with an arm to grip or to manipulate the environment, a head that holds a RGB-D camera for the detection of persons, objects or the toilet seat, a microphone for recognizing speech and a mobile base for driving around the apartment,” Raphael Memmesheimer, a Ph.D. student in the active vision group at the University of Koblenz, told Digital Trends.

The team’s robot is capable of approaching a toilet, soaking up liquid on the seat and surrounding floor (you filthy animals!), and picking up small pieces of toilet paper. It finishes off by cleaning the floor.

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It’s not particularly quick in doing this, but perhaps that’s not too necessary unless you’re a hotel owner wanting the robot to clean 30 rooms before it goes on its robo-lunch break. Nonetheless, it’s a neat demo of some technology which might become a ubiquitous part of every home a few decades from now — the same way that the Roomba vacuum cleaner is increasingly standard. Hey, between this and shirt-folding robots, it seems that we really are getting closer to the robot housekeeping dream promised to us by shows like The Jetsons.

Unfortunately, don’t expect to be able to buy a toilet-scrubbing robot from the researchers in the immediate future. “The robots that we program are at a research level,” Memmesheimer continued. “We demonstrate the possibility of solving tasks with the robot.”

However, the group is interested in collaborating with companies which want to develop more affordable robots for carrying out a wide range of tasks. “As of now, robots that have functional robot arms are not affordable for targeting consumer devices,” Memmesheimer said. “First use cases will most probably be in public places like airports or shopping centers. Really functional, affordable service robots [are more likely to be made available to customers] in the more distant future.”

Which, of course, raises the other question: If at some point the machines really do take over, who wants to be the person nominated to tell the robot overlord that we forced his ancestors to scrub toilets for us?

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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