Handy humans such as MacGyver can think of fast fixes for almost any scenario, but robots would still have trouble just getting around a fire or using a crowbar to pry open a stuck door. The U.S. Navy plans to help make a robotic MacGyver with almost $1 million in funding.
A robot that could know or learn how to stand on a chair to reach a high object, brace a ladder, stack boxes to climb over obstacles, or build a temporary bridge from nearby wooden planks could do more than help itself — it could help U.S. sailors, airmen or soldiers in both peacetime and war. Such smart robots could possibly also pave the way for smarter robot servants capable of playing maid or butler by helping homeowners around the house.
"Our goal is to develop a robot that behaves like MacGyver, the television character from the 1980s who solved complex problems and escaped dangerous situations by using everyday objects and materials he found at hand," said Mike Stilman, an assistant professor of robotics at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Stilman and his colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology received a three-year, $900,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research to develop software that allows robots to identify random objects in a room and figure out how to use them in solving certain tasks.
"We will achieve this by designing algorithms for robots that make tasks that are impossible for a robot alone possible for a robot with tools," Stilman explained.
A humanoid robot called Golem Krang will serve as the test platform for the software. Krang, a product of Stilman's Georgia Tech lab, resembles a pair of oversize robot arms on a wheel-mounted body.
The Office of Naval Research has funded other robot projects such as SAFFiR, a robot firefighter designed to throw extinguisher grenades aboard warships. Success with the "MacGyver robot" could end up boosting the intelligence of SAFFiR or similar robots that end up working with U.S. military service members.
"Professor Stilman's work on the 'MacGyver-bot' is the first of its kind, and is already beginning to deliver on the promise of mechanical teammates able to creatively perform in high-stakes situations," said Paul Bello, director of the cognitive science program in the Office of Naval Research.
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