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  • CIRA 2003, Kobe Graefe, Bischoff: Past, . . . Future of Intelligent Robots

    Past, Present and Future of Intelligent RobotsVolker Graefe and Rainer Bischoff

    Intelligent Robots Lab, LRT 6Bundeswehr University Muenchen

    85577 Neubiberg, Germany

    AbstractSome fundamental characteristics of past, present andfuture robots are reviewed. In particular, the humanoidrobot HERMES, an experimental robotic assistant ofanthropomorphic size and shape, and the key technolo-gies developed for it, are introduced. HERMES interactsdependably with people and their common living environ-ment. It understands spoken natural language (English,French and German) speaker-independently, and can,therefore, be commanded by untrained humans.HERMES can see, hear, speak, and feel, as well as moveabout, localize itself, build maps of its environment andmanipulate various objects. In its dialogues and otherinteractions with humans it appears intelligent, cooper-ative and friendly. In a long-term test (6 months) at amuseum it chatted with visitors in natural language inGerman, English and French, answered questions andperformed services as requested by them.

    1 IntroductionMachines that resemble humans or animals have fasci-nated mankind for thousands of years, but only in the16th century technology and craftsmanship became suffi-ciently advanced both in Europe and in Japan to allow theconstruction of automated dolls. What we call robotstoday are machines that incorporate at least some com-putational intelligence, and such machines have existedonly for a few decades.The most wide-spread robots today are industrial robots.They are useful and important for the production ofgoods, but they are not very intelligent. With the adventof more powerful computers more intelligent artificialcreatures could be realized, including some autonomousvehicles and service robots.In the future we will see "personal robots" that will enter-tain, comfort and serve people in their private lives andhomes. While presently robotic servants or butlers existonly in the form of early prototypes in a few researchlaboratories, they are expected to become as ubiquitousas PCs in the future.There is no precise definition, but by general agreement arobot is a programmable machine that imitates the actionsor appearance of an intelligent creature, usually a human.To qualify as a robot, a machine has to be able to do twothings: one, get information from its surroundings, andtwo, do something physical, such as move or manipulateobjects. Robots can be huge and massive 50 meters longmachines or little tiny manipulators in micro- or nano-

    meter space. They can be intelligent and autonomously(unpredictably) act on their environment, or dumb ma-chines repeatedly making the same predictable and pre-cise motions without a pause, or something in-between.They are propelled by wheels or tracks, move snake-likeor have legs; they work in laboratories, offices or muse-ums, act in outer space or swim in the deep sea. Robotsare made to accomplish dirty, dull or dangerous work,and more recently, to entertain and to be played with.They construct, assemble, cut, glue, solder, weld, paint,inspect, measure, dig, demine, harvest, clean, mow, playsoccer and act in movies. This multi-cultural societyhas grown in recent years to more than one millioninhabitants.

    1.1 Ancient RobotsProbably the oldest mentioning of autonomous mobilerobots may be found in Homers Iliad (written circa 800B.C.). According to this source, Hephaistos, the Greekgod of smiths, fire and metalworking, built 20 three-leg-ged creatures (tripods) with golden wheels beneath thebase of each that of themselves they might enter the gath-ering of the gods at his wish and again return to hishouse (book 18, verse 375). They are described as beingpowerful and intelligent, with ears and voices, willing tohelp and work for him [Homer 800 B.C.]. Details re-garding their technology are left to the imagination of thereader.Mechanical animals that could be animated by water, airand steam pressure were constructed by Hero of Alexan-dria in the first century B.C. [Woodcroft 1851]. Muchlater, depending on dexterous manufacturing knowledgefor clockworks starting in the 16th century, skilled crafts-men in Western Europe succeeded to design anthropo-morphic devices that could imitate a humans movementsor behaviors in general. Mechanical dolls performedsimple life-like acts, such as drawing, writing shortphrases or playing music [Heyl 1964].Japanese craftsmen of the 18th century created many vari-eties of automated mechanical dolls, karakuri, that couldperform such acts as drawing an arrow from a quiver,shoot it from a bow, and display pride over the good shot.Another famous karakuri could bring a tea cup to a guestover distances of about 2 m (size of a tatami mat). Whenthe guest removed the cup from the tray, the doll ceasedto move forward, turned around and returned to its start-ing place [Nipponia 2000]. What makes those karakuriparticularly fascinating is that their mechanisms are usu-ally constructed entirely from wood.

  • CIRA 2003, Kobe Graefe, Bischoff: Past, . . . Future of Intelligent Robots- 2 -

    Figure 1: Modern computer-controlled karakuri Cilo arpg-go with four dolls. The doll on the right plays an instrument asthe other ones dance to the tune. (From [Mudo 2003])

    Modern karakuri combine a beautiful and artistic appear-ance with sophisticated computer-controlled mechanicsinside. Figure 1 shows as an example a karakuri createdby the artist Yuriko Mudo and on display in a departmentstore in Nagoya station. Such dolls may nowadays beseen in many public places, hotel lobbies and restaurantsin Japan.

    1.2 Industrial RobotsOther successors to the ancient robots are todays indus-trial robots. While they may be more useful, they arecertainly less artistic. More than one million industrialrobots are working in the factories of the world, produc-ing many of those goods which we like to consume or useevery day. While these robots are an important source ofour prosperity, they have no intelligence and very littlesensory abilities. They can operate only in carefully pre-pared environments and under the supervision of experts.For safety reasons they must stop moving whenever asafety barrier is violated by a person or an object, even ifthe robot is not nearby.

    1.3 Autonomous Mobile RobotsIn the 1960s and 1970s some ambitious researchers atStanford University, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Car-negie Mellon University created a novel kind of robots:computer-controlled vehicles that ran autonomously intheir laboratories and even outside with a video camera asthe main sensor [Nilsson 1969], [Moravec 1980]. Due tothe limited computing power and insufficient vision tech-nology of the time, the speed of those early vehicles wasonly about 1 m in 10-15 min, and the environment had tobe carefully prepared to facilitate image interpretation.In 1987 technology had advanced to the point that anautonomous road vehicle could follow a road at a speedof 96 km/h, a world record at that time [Dickmanns,Graefe 1988]. In 1992 the objects that are relevant forroad traffic situations could be recognized in real timefrom within a moving vehicle [Graefe 1992], making itpossible for an autonomous driverless vehicle to mix withordinary vehicles in ordinary freeway traffic. Althoughmost major automobile companies now operate autono-mous cars in their research laboratories, decades will passbefore such vehicles will be sold to the public.In recent years another kind of robots has appeared in themarket. Unlike industrial robots, their purpose is not theproduction of goods in factories, but the delivery of vari-ous services, so far mainly in the areas of floor cleaning[Endres et al. 1998], mail delivery [Tschichold 2001],lawn-mowing [Friendly Robotics 2003], giving tours in amuseum [Nourbakhsh et al. 1999], [Thrun et al. 2000]and surgical assistance [Integrated Surgical Systems2001]. They have been employed in environments wherethey may, or even have to, come into contact with thepublic, and some of them actually interact with people.They can, to a very limited extent, perceive their environ-ment and they display traces of intelligence, e.g., in navi-gation and obstacle avoidance. Combined with their slowspeed of motion this allows some of them to operate safe-

    ly in the vicinity of ordinary humans. All these servicerobots, as they are called, have the following characteris-tics in common (a few exceptions exist):< Each one of them is a specialist, able to deliver only

    one kind of service in only one kind of environment.< Their sensory and cognitive abilities and their

    dependability are barely sufficient for accomplishingtheir given task most of the time.

    < They are of a more or less experimental nature andhave not yet proven their cost effectiveness.

    Much R&D effort is being spent to overcome these defi-ciencies and it is hoped that service robots will eventuallybe economically as important as industrial robots aretoday.

    1.4 Personal RobotsA novel kind of robots is currently evolving. While indus-trial robots produce goods in factories, and service robotssupport, or substitute, humans in their work places, thosenovel personal robots are intended to serve, or accom-pany, people in their private lives and share their homeswith them. Two types of personal robots have so faremerged: One type comprises robots that are intended tomake people feel happy, comfortable or less lonely or,more generally speaking, to affect them emotionally;these robots usually cannot, and need not, do anythingthat is useful in a practical sense. They may be consideredartificial pets or in the future even companions.Therefore, they are also called personal robotic pets orcompanions. The most famous one is AIBO, sold in largenumbers by Sony since 1999. Weighing about 2 kg itresembles in its appearance and some of its behaviors aminiature dog. The other type of personal robot is intend-ed to do useful work in and around peoples homes andeventually evolve into something like artificial maids orbutlers. Such robots may be called personal robotic ser-vants or assistants.In many developed societies the fraction of elderly peopleis growing and this trend will continue for at least severaldecades. Consequently, it will be more and more difficultto find enough younger people to provide needed servicesto the elderly ones, to help them with their households, tonurse them and even to just give them company. We may

  • CIRA 2003, Kobe Graefe, Bischoff: Past, . . . Future of Intelligent Robots- 3 -

    Figure 2: Humanoid experimentalrobot HERMES; mass: 250 kg;size: 1.85 m A 0.7 m A 0.7 m

    Figure 3: HERMES omni-directional undercarriage withactive (large) and passive (small)wheels, bumpers and batteries

    hope that personal robots will help to alle-viate these problems. Looking at it from adifferent point of view, and also consider-ing the fact, that many of those elderlypeople are fairly wealthy and have rela-tively few heirs for whom they might wantto save their wealth, personal robots prom-ise to create large and profitable marketsfor technology-oriented companies. It isnot surprising that major companies, suchas Fujitsu, NEC, Omron, Sanyo, Sony andHonda are developing and marketing per-sonal robots [Fujitsu 2003],[NEC 2001],[Omron 2001], [Sanyo 2002], [Fujita &Kitano 1998], [Sakagami et al. 2002].Technologically, pet robots are much lessdemanding than servant robots. Among thereasons are that no hard specification ex-ists for what a pet robot must be able to do,and that many deficiencies that a cute petrobot might have may make it even morelovable in the eyes of its owner. Assisting apet robot in overcoming its deficienciesmay actually be an emotionally satisfyingactivity. A servant robot, on the otherhand, simply has to function perfectly allthe time. Even worse: while a maid will beforgiven her occasional mistakes if she of-fers sincere apologies, no technology isavailable for implanting the necessary capacities for sin-cerity, feeling of guilt and compassion in a robot. In fact,marketable servant robots are far beyond our presenttechnology in many respects and all personal robots thathave been marketed are pet robots.Pet robots have already demonstrated their indirect use-fulness in systematic studies. For instance, Shibata andcoworkers [Wada et al. 2003] have carried out rehabili-tation experiments in various hospitals with a white furryrobot seal called Paro (the name comes from the Japanesepronunciation of the first letters of personal robot). Parohas 7 degrees of freedom, tactile sensors on the whiskersand most of its body, posture and light sensors, and twomicrophones. It generates behaviors based on stimulation(frequency, type, etc.), the time of day and internalmoods. Paro has one significant advantage over artificialcats and dogs: people usually do not have pre-conceivednotions about seal behavior and are unfa-miliar with their appearance, and thus peo-ple easily report that the interaction withParo seems completely natural and appro-priate. The seals therapeutic effect hasbeen observed in hospitals and among el-derly. During several interaction trials inhospitals carried out over several months,researchers found a marked drop in stresslevels among the patients and nurses. Nurs-es of an elderly day care center reportedthat the robot both motivated elderly peo-ple and promoted social communication.Servant robots, on the other hand, existonly in the form of early prototypes in a

    few research laboratories, and then oftennot even as complete robots. In some casesonly a head, or the image of a simulatedhead on a screen, exists, in other casesonly a torso with a head and arms, butwithout the ability of locomotion.In the remainder of this paper we willintroduce one of these prototypes, thehumanoid experimental robot HERMESthat we have developed to advance thetechnology of servant robots (Figure 2).What makes it special is the great varietyof its abilities and skills, and the fact thatits remarkable dependability has actuallybeen demonstrated in a long-term test in amuseum where it interacted with visitorsseveral hours a day for six months.

    2 The Humanoid Robot HERMES2.1 OverviewWith its omnidirectional undercarriage,body, head, eyes and two arms HERMEShas 22 degrees of freedom and resembles ahuman in height and shape. Its mainexteroceptive sensor modality is mono-chrome vision.In designing it we placed great emphasison modularity and extensibility of both

    hardware and software [Bischoff 1997]. It is built from25 drive modules with identical electrical and similarmechanical interfaces. Each module contains a motor, aHarmonic Drive gear, a microcontroller, power electron-ics, a communication interface and some sensors. Themodules are connected to each other and to the maincomputer by a single bus. The modular approach has ledto an extensible design that can easily be modified andmaintained.Both camera eye...