One of the challenges of the 21st century is to develop robots capable of moving around in the human world, carrying out socially useful tasks. But although robots are already famous for their skills in performing tasks fairly independently, this independence is often still disappointing. Each task performed by the robot has been programmed in advance by humans, but while executing it, the robot relies entirely on its own monitoring of the process to optimize the task. Worse still, whenever the robot has to perform the same task again at a different location, it has to start all over again: it has to visualize the surroundings and decide how to complete the task successfully. There is no collective worldwide memory for robots to draw from.
This situation is about to change, with the RoboEarth research project. Six European research institutes, among them the Technische Universität München, will be developing a system allowing robots to perform tasks in, for example, home care or health care situations that had not been planned when the robot was constructed. Robots will be able to retrieve this new knowledge from a worldwide database dubbed RoboEarth, in which the experiences of other robots are stored. This will allow robots to learn from each other, and adapt much more quickly to new surroundings. Companies will be able to extend the knowledge stored in RoboEarth or use it for completely new applications. Hence, RoboEarth could speed up the innovation process, and this is expected to result in higher quality robot applications.
The project will be led by Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). Other participants besides TU München will be Universität Stuttgart, ETH Zürich, Universidad de Zaragoza, and Philips Applied Technologies. The team will be making six demo versions that will demonstrate the use of RoboEarth, including a robot capable of offering beverages to hospital patients, and a system that will show how the knowledge acquired by robot A improves the performance of robot B.
Technische Universität München (TUM) is one of Germany's leading universities. It has roughly 420 professors, 7500 academic and non-academic staff - including those at the university hospital "Rechts der Isar", and 24.000 students. It focuses on the engineering sciences, natural sciences, life sciences, medicine, and economic sciences. After winning numerous awards, it was selected as an "Elite University" in 2006 by the Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). The university's global network includes an outpost in Singapore. TUM is dedicated to the ideal of a top-level research based entrepreneurial university.