For a robot to be able to wash clothes, vacuum carpets or serve you cocktails on a Friday night, it needs to be loaded with the appropriate software and data. In the future, though, a robot will easily be able pull info they need to do those things (and more) from a single online service called Robo Brain. Researchers, roboticists and companies, for instance, will be able to download whatever skill they want and then load it onto their creations. Robots already deployed to do their jobs, on the other hand, can go online to use the service and look up anything it comes across that it can't recognize.
According to project lead Ashutosh Saxena from Cornell (the study's a joint effort between Brown, Cornell and Stanford Universities as well as the University of California, Berkeley), his team's goal is to "build a very good knowledge graph -- or a knowledge base -- for robots to use." Think of Robo Brain as Wikipedia (without all the unsourced information) that robots can tap into when they need to understand how we speak and how we see the world -- both extremely important if they are to organically perform their tasks. Those are a lot more complicated than what they sound like, since we have to program machines to make connections that we do. For example: A mug, for them, is only just a mug, whereas we know that it's used to drink liquid, particularly hot drinks like coffee or chocolate.
This isn't the first project that aims to build a comprehensive source of knowledge and skillset for machines -- European researchers are working on a similar endeavor called RoboEarth, which was demoed in January. As for Robo Brain, well, it has a ways to go, as you can imagine: right now, it's in the midst of processing and storing info from a billion images, 100 million how-tos and manuals and 120,000 YouTube videos. Thankfully, the project's at least well-funded and supported by a healthy number of sponsors, including Google, Microsoft and Qualcomm. If you'd also like to help advance the project in your own way, you can do so by fixing any mistake you spot on the Robo Brain website, where the team posts all the new info the service has learned.