Mr Leidner, when will robots finally do the housework?

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“To answer this question we have to look at typical chores needing to be carried out in domestic environments. Among other things, a universal service robot would have to be able to tidy away everyday items, prepare our meals and clean rooms, furniture and other objects. In all these cases, task-specific compliant contact is required. A robot has to physically interact with the objects involved in executing the task by performing specific task motions while applying the right amount of force in order to achieve the desired goal state.

How would such a robot function and what tasks could it perform?

the humanoid robot Rollin’ Justin even makes coffee

At the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), we are exploring these possibilities with a humanoid service robot named Rollin’ Justin. The robot’s lightweight manipulators are equipped with torque sensors in every joint, allowing it to detect any contact with its surroundings and ensuring safety in the event of a collision. We programme Rollin’ Justin to complete different tasks using artificial intelligence reasoning methods in conjunction with whole-body compliance control strategies. Specifically, we apply a knowledge-based approach to plan and parameterize task execution according to its specific requirements. The robot is provided with detailed information for each object involved in executing the task. This includes for example geometric information such as computer-aided design (CAD) data and visual features. Additionally, compliance parameters such as applied forces and stiffness settings are provided to the control level. A whole-body impedance control framework allows Rollin’ Justin to carry out even complex tasks such as sweeping with a broom. This unique combination of two research fields allows us to command the robot to achieve high-level goals in our laboratory environment, such as “collect the shards of the broken mug with the broom”.

Enriching our lives

Rollin’ Justin performs laborious chores all on his own.

Nevertheless, robotic research is still in its early stages, which makes it hard to predict when the first universal service robots will actually arrive in our homes. That said, the first personal assistant robots for domestic applications are currently being developed in the form of robotic arms mounted to a wheelchair, helping the disabled or elderly to lead a more independent life. Thanks to the methods we are developing at DLR, these robots will probably be of practical use within the next decades and enrich our society before long.”

Mr Leidner, thank you for these fascinating insights into your research!