Robo Brain is an online service that teaches robots new skills

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For a robot to be able to wash clothes, vacuum carpets or serve you cocktails on a Friday night, it needs to be loaded with the appropriate software and data. In the future, though, a robot will easily be able pull info they need to do those things from a single online service called Robo Brain. Researchers, roboticists and companies, for instance, will be able to download whatever skill they want and then load it onto their creations. Robots already deployed to do their jobs, on the other hand, can go online to use the service and look up anything it comes across that it can’t recognize.

If you walk into the computer science building at Stanford University, Mobi is standing in the lobby, encased in glass. He looks a bit like a garbage can, with a rod for a neck and a camera for eyes. He was one of several robots developed at Stanford in the 1980s to study how machines might learn to navigate their environment—a stepping stone toward intelligent robots that could live and work alongside humans. He worked, but not especially well. The best he could do was follow a path along a wall. Like so many other robots, his “brain” was on the small side. Now, just down the hall from Mobi, scientists led by roboticist Ashutosh Saxena are taking this mission several steps further. They’re working to build machines that can see, hear, comprehend natural language (both written and spoken), and develop an understanding of the world around them, in much the same way that people do.

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