RoboEarth. No, it’s not a lame SNES game from 1994, it’s a cloud network that lets robots learn from the actions of other bots. It started over three years ago, and now, a new, related project has sprung from that initiative at the Institute for Artificial Intelligence at the University of Bremen in Germany. Called RoboHow, it seeks to translate info on the web meant for human consumption into something our electromechanical helpers can understand. Imagine a future in which you ask your house robot to whip you up something new for dinner; RoboHow would ingest your chosen recipes from Epicurious and turn them into instructions said bot can execute.
Earlier this year, a vaguely humanoid robot served juice to a researcher lying on a hospital bed. The robot then uploaded its memory of the experience to a system of cloud servers, essentially a shared global brain. When the next juice-serving robot came along, it had already downloaded the memory and knew where to find the juice and how to get to the bed. The phenomenon of robots teaching one another is known as transfer learning, and it could prove increasingly useful as more people begin to rely on robots for medical care and other services. A robot facing a row of unfamiliar objects could locate the one it needs, check with the cloud about the best strategy for grasping it, and pick it up even if it hadn’t been trained to do so directly, says Gajan Mohanarajah, who worked with the juice-serving robots while pursuing a Ph.D. at Swiss university ETH Zurich. He’s spent more than four years working to develop the technology as part of RoboEarth, a project undertaken by academics at six European universities and funded by the European Union.