Boffins point the way to command robots

Boffins point the way to command robots

Devices can fetch items indicated with laser pointer

A team of US researchers has devised a way of instructing robots to find and retrieve items identified with a simple laser pointer.

The boffins can even instruct a robot to find an item that it may never have seen before using the technique.

The team explained that El-E (pronounced 'ellie') is designed to help users with limited mobility.

The robot can perform everyday tasks by autonomously moving to an item selected with a green laser pointer, picking up the item and delivering it to the user, another person or a selected location such as a table.

El-E, named for its ability to elevate its arm and for the arm's resemblance to an elephant trunk, can grasp and deliver several types of household items including towels, pill bottles and telephones.

The Georgia Tech and Emory University research team is gathering input from sufferers of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) and doctors to prepare El-E to assist patients with severe mobility issues.

Charlie Kemp, director of the Healthcare Robotics Center at Georgia Tech and Emory University, said: "Humans naturally point at things but are not very accurate, so we use the context of the situation or verbal cues to clarify which object is important.

"Robots have some ability to retrieve specific, predefined objects such as a soda can, but retrieving generic everyday objects has been a challenge."

The laser pointer interface overcomes this by providing a direct way for people to communicate the location of interest and enable El-E to pick up an object found at this location.

Through these innovations, El-E can retrieve objects without understanding what the object is or what it is called.