Sure, we've seen machines that can mix drinks with the help of an app and robot bartenders that can create cocktails out of Keurig-esque pods, but they all require you to actually push the control buttons and carry your own beverages. The horror! Fortunately for lazy drinkers everywhere, members of the CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) team at MIT recently presented a system of robots working together in a "bar" scenario that consisted of a PR2 robot "bartender" and two four-wheeled open-source "Turtlebot" kits acting as waiters. That... must have been a mighty tough day at work.
Seriously, it must have taken a lot of work to accomplish: One of the biggest challenges in getting robots to work together is dealing with the uncertainties presented by the human world. For example, a Turtlebot heading to the PR2 bartender bot might be thwarted by the bartender serving another Turtlebot or by the PR2 being unobservable by the other bots' sensors. Robots are often unable to communicate with each other unless in close proximity, another issue that the team is working on so that the system can be tested in more complex scenarios such as search-and-rescue.
The CSAIL team was able to develop planning algorithms that coordinated groups of bots to perform tasks with only a description of the problem by programming them to see tasks as a series of macro-actions that involved multiple steps. Which means the robots approach tasks like "Fetch me another martini!" more like a human would. Now if they could only get it to make scones and call everybody Wesley....
[Image credit: Tom Buehler/CSAIL]