$6 million euro robot can make coffee

I’m coming to this one late, but apparently some Italian scientists have spent $6 million euros building a robot that makes coffee.

You laugh. (Well, I did, anyway.) But part of the challenge of producing robots that help people, of course, is mastering some of the unexpectedly complex motions of human limbs — and making coffee is precisely this sort of unexpectedly complex task, so it’s actually kind of a cool thing to try and achieve. As the scientists note in this designboom story:

“The problem of using two hands together, the way humans do when the pick up a heavy plant pot, is a particularly sticky one. At present robots can use a single arm with reasonable accuracy and flexibility. But until now they have fallen short of the technological complexity and artificial intelligence needed for a two-handed approach.

“We want to develop a system of two-handed manipulation, equipped with sensors that make
the robot conscious of its surroundings and the people in its working space’, Siciliano said.

Truthfully, having watched a video of the robot in action, ay yi yi would I not want that thing slinging volcanic McDonald’s-hot coffee anywhere near me. The robot’s motions are quite elegant, in their own way, but the training is still pretty spastic.

Sometimes I wonder whether robotics money ought to be spent less on making robots that replicate human activity, and more on robots that enhance human activity — i.e. that do things of which we’re completely not capable. Like blasting holes in walls, or picking up that car that’s illegally parked in front of your house and crumpling it into a ball. On that note, I was particularly charmed to read yesterday on Boing Boing about the guy who created a remote-controlled vigilante robot to chase drug dealers away from his neighborhood by spraying them with water.

(Thanks to Yishay Mor for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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