Meet Baxter, the world’s first living robots.
The small metallic droids from the U.S. National Robotics Engineering Center, or NREC, have the ability to reproduce, to learn by manipulating objects, and to react in and out of their environment. Their development was unveiled this week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“We are very excited about the results so far,” said NREC researcher Raphael Krieg in a statement. “Baxter’s learning capabilities are coming along really well, and we don’t think he’ll be too large a problem to be tamed and operated. And he can make the first step toward the full height of a human being.”
Today, nearly 300 scientists have used Baxter, named after the German automaton “Thomas,” in a number of experiments. One involved using Baxter to navigate a small garden using directional cues from two stalks (one at the top, the other at the bottom). Another time, it learned the 3-D shape of a ceramic vase using feedback signals from real-world objects within that same vase.
Baxter, along with its related iRobot Roomba, is one of a few robots that can clean the floor. But as Wired points out, it is also a good bet to step in as a caregiver when an elderly person decides to stop staying at home.
In the new experiments, Baxter — which is still in early stages of development — added about 1.7 pounds to its body weight when it turned its robotic arm to observe its surroundings. While many other robots can clone themselves, they use the knowledge from an external “expert” robotic limb or nanny, Wired writes, which doesn’t actually represent the environment.
The new research shows that, over time, Baxter is learning how to operate and respond in his surroundings. “We want to accelerate that and build this little kid, and see him out and about,” he’s called. In addition to piloting machines, Krieg says, the goal is to help robots feel more human — similar to how humans sometimes listen to their robot-friends when they’re afraid.