Designed to safely perform human-scale tasks, Blue will cost $5k and help accelerate research towards useful home robots
Robots are well-known for being very good at some very specific things. They’re often defined by words like “precision” and “repeatability” and “speed,” because if you want a robot to be uniquely useful, it’s usually going to have to leverage one or more of those characteristics in a way that makes it better at some specific task than humans are. Robots have been doing this for decades, typically in places like industrial settings, but things are starting to change, and roboticists are beginning to look towards other applications in more unconstrained, dynamic environments, like non-industrial settings.
Such environments (our homes, for example) are the kinds of places that we really, really want robots to be useful in. We want them doing our chores so that we don’t have to, ideally without causing catastrophic damage or injury at the same time. And tasks like these need a much different set of capabilities—in order to do things that humans do in places that humans are, “speed” and “repeatability” and all that are far less important than compliance and the ability to make the most of clever, adaptable software. The upshot of all this is that the advances in artificial intelligence over the past few years have resulted in researchers developing software for (and on) robots that are over engineered for many of the tasks that we want them to do, more expensive than they need to be, and probably not as safe as we’d want.
A team of roboticists at UC Berkeley led by Pieter Abbeel identified this problem three years ago, and began development of a new robot arm designed specifically to be useful (and accessible) to folks researching applied manipulation in human environments. Blue is a human-scale 7-degrees-of-freedom arm that will cost less than US $5,000 (when manufactured in volume), and the hope is that it’s capable enough, and affordable enough, to significantly accelerate research towards useful home robots.
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