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article imageRapyuta, Roboearth's collective brain for robots goes live

By Robert Myles     Mar 9, 2013 in Technology
It’s not quite the Borg Collective of Star Trek fame but this week, the prospect of sentient, reasoning robots took a step closer as the European Roboearth project deployed its alpha version of a standardised knowledge base for robots.
Essentially, Roboearth is a World Wide Web for robots where robots can use cloud computing to exchange information and learn from other robots experiences about their behaviour and surroundings. Roboearth says its goal is to permit robotic systems to gain knowledge from the experience of other robots. In turn, setting a path for advances machines to become more cognitive, and interact with humans in more subtle ‘human’ ways.
This week, robots will be able to ‘look up’ their own Internet much in the same way as humans might use Wikipedia or other online resources. The new system of robot connectivity is called Rapyuta. The title 'Rapyuta' was inspired by the 1986 Japanese anime film of the same name, known as Castle in the Sky in English, about a mythical land of robots in the sky.
The advantage of the Rapyuta’s decentralized system is that by using ‘the cloud’ a robot doesn’t need to pack huge computing power on board. At the moment, vast amounts of computing power are required to enable a robot to figure out how to do the most basic of tasks such as folding a towel. First, it’s got to recognise it’s dealing with a towel and not a pillow-slip, for example, and then it’s got to know how to fold it — neatly, of course.
Scientists with Roboearth, which is a joint project of five research labs across Europe, hope that by making robot knowledge collective, rather than having each robot with its own idiosyncrasies when it comes to, well, the folding of towels, that the costs of robots will be driven down. The theory is that the advancement and learning of one individual robot will benefit all the rest. Faced with a newly laundered towel for the first time, a robot could query the Rapyuta database and instantly know it wasn’t a T-shirt and needed folding differently — after first learning how to do the ironing, naturally.
And the Rapyuta system will not just be restricted to physical movement. The database could also help robots to better understand human speech. Different dialects of the same language could be compared bringing to an end frustrations mere humans sometimes encounter when they end up shouting at speech recognition software used by call centres.
The Rapyuta system might also be developed to allow self-driving cars, which involve massive computing power, to become more of a practical reality if it allows them to be liberated from having to carry all their knowledge about everything as part of their individual payload. More ominously as BBC News reports, Mohanarajah Gajamohan, technical head of the project at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich said the system could also be particularly useful for drones.
Roboearth is part of the European Commission’s CORDIS project — Community Research and Development Information Service.
More about Robot, Robotics, Artificial intelligence, Rapyuta, Drone
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