Sure we all love robots that can play soccer, crawl through our intestines, or blow things up, but the real holy grail of robotics -- at least to the lazy folks among us -- is a multi-purpose bot that can perform a number of different tasks that humans find distasteful: we need a robot butler. Well thanks to a team of 30+ researchers at Stanford University (the same school that brought us Stanley the Grand Challenge-winning, um, autobot), our dream of one day bossing a domestic bot around the house while we blog from the hot tub may soon come to fruition, as the school's so-called STAIR program has just achieved the first of its four major objectives. Using a webcam and a proprietary algorithm, the STAIR bot is now able to analyze an unknown object and decide how to pick it up based on past experiences; so although it may never have encountered a roll of duct tape, for instance, it can query its on-board database to locate similar objects from which it can form a grasping strategy. The next steps for the robobutler will be significantly more difficult, however, as the project will only be deemed a success when the bot is able to clean up after a party (including loading the dishwasher), assemble one of those frustrating pieces of IKEA furniture using multiple tools, and guide guests around a dynamic space such as a research lab. Just don't expect to see the STAIR bot at your local Circuit City or temp agency anytime soon, as it won't be able to adequately fetch open-air objects until sometime in 2008 and hidden objects until 2011 or later, according to team leader Andrew Ng. Still, we love where this research is headed, because when it comes time for the inevitable mechatronic uprising, our future overlords will be able to calmingly lead us to our dungeons by the hand instead of painfully dragging us by the ear, nose, or other sensitive body part. Click on to check out the robobutler perched on its Segway-based mobility platform...

[Via Robot Gossip]

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