Robot Monday: Willow Garage’s beer-fetching robot

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Alright, alright, we know that beer is funny. Whenever you mention beer or alcohol of any kind everyone snickers and gets far too excited and then some frat boy makes some weird cheering/groaning noise and suddenly you’re far more popular than you were two seconds ago.

So, let’s get the stupid beer snickers (HAHA BEER) out of the way right now and focus on the fact that the above robot is astonishing. Willow Garage’s PR2 robot uses a combination of technologies I don’t understand to open a fridge, choose the beer you want, and then bring it to you.

Anyway, here’s how the folks at Willow Garage (great name, by the way)  describe the robot’s functions:

The robot uses object recognition to determine which beers are in the rack, and will report back to the app if the user’s selection is not available. Otherwise, it stocks the ordered beers into the foam holder, closes the door, and navigates to the indicated office. The final piece of the puzzle is the handoff. We wanted to make very sure the robot didn’t commit a party foul and drop beers on the floor, so we added face detection to the handoff behavior. The robot offers a beer and waits until it detects a face in near proximity. It then looks at the closest person and will release the gripper when the beer is tugged. The robot will also offer the bottle opener and wait for it to be returned. We even got the robot to open beers itself using a standard bottle opener.

I tried to teach my dog to do this once and all he did was wag his tail and roll over on the ground. Stupid dog. Willow Garage’s robots are clearly meant as a replacement for such flaw-ridden animal  servants. Expect to see them starring in thousands of America’s Favorite Home Videos episodes soon.

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