In the classic TV cartoon series The Jetsons, a wisecracking and lovable robot maid named Rosie helps out around the house.
She irons George’s shirts, helps Jane with the dishes and even disciplines Elroy. The show is set in the 2060s, 100 years in the future from the time the show originally aired. While Hanna and Barbera were likely going for comedy rather than prophecy, their depiction of Rosie – a robot capable of learning and performing new tasks—could become reality within our lifetimes.
A big reason for this is the work that researchers are doing in the computer science department at the University of North Carolina. Drs. Ron Alterovitz, Dinesh Manocha and Ming Lin are a few of the brilliant computer scientists in Chapel Hill working on algorithms that will change the way we interact with robots, making them smarter and our lives better. Their research in planning algorithms will one day make robots capable of doing housework, working with people on factory floors, assisting in surgery and driving our cars.
“Basically we are trying to improve robots’ thinking and planning capabilities so it can react to new and totally unknown situations,” says Manocha, who leads the Geometric Algorithms for Modeling, Motion and Animation, or GAMMA, research group with Lin.
Through their work with GAMMA, Manocha and Lin are developing motion-planning algorithms that will make it possible for robots to navigate complex environments. Companies like German manufacturing giant KUKA work with GAMMA to figure out how best to implement these algorithms in their robots.