A new robotic arm design for future home robots that do our chores

Remember UC Berkeley researcher Pieter Abbeel's fantastic towel-folding robot? Now, Abbeel and his team have prototyped a new kind of robot arm design meant for the home and other human environments. Compared to robot arms common in factories, this manipulator, called Blue, is less expensive (<$5,000), safer, well-suited for emerging AI capabilities, and ready for "unconstrained environments" like homes. Also, the robot, named Blue, doesn't require the level of precision demanded by most industrial automation applications. According to the researchers, a "partial set of tasks to consider (in the robot design) includes: unloading a dishwasher, stocking a refrigerator, floor decluttering, opening doors, opening microwave ovens, sorting packages, physical stroke rehabilitation, folding laundry, cleaning windows, bed making, and bathroom cleaning. We demonstrate the robot in kitchen cleaning, table decluttering, telepresence, and machine tending."

From an interview in IEEE Spectrum:

Your demo videos show Blue doing the kinds of household tasks that are very difficult for robots to do right now—why choose those tasks to introduce Blue?

David Gealy: I think we’re really trying to outline the highest level capability of the robot, which is going back to our thesis that anything that is teleoperable, a future AI will be able to do. And so that’s why we picked out these really hard problems—problems that other robots couldn’t necessarily do so well and so fluidly. So that was definitely on purpose, to showcase what’s possible with the hardware.

Pieter Abbeel: We want to speak to people’s imagination. Home robots have been a dream for a long time, so that’s also why we take a lot of example tasks out of that space. The robot is designed to be around people; the inherent compliance makes it ideal. So we want to bring that concept in.

Learn more: Project Blue (UC Berkeley)