Robot knocks to enter

Spanish researchers have developed an autonomous, intelligent robot that can find its way around a new building, identify doors and ask permission to enter.

The Autonomous Robotics and Systems research team from the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), led by Basilio Sierra, has enabled the robot (which is called Tartalo) to navigate indoors where GPS navigation does not work.

The 1.5-metre tall, intelligent machine side-steps any obstacle in its path, using sonar, infrared lasers. The laser measures the distance of the robot from any object in a 180-degree radius in front of it.

The biomimetic algorithms mean Tartalo gains information on a new building by exploring and taking in points of reference. As this would normally require huge amounts of data, this has been simplified by programming Tartalo to recognise common structures: room, corridor, front hall and junction. After learning the position of all of these, the machine creates a topological map that the operator can then give specific labels to.

To distinguish between different objects, Tartalo, a single eye-camera, compares them with its database and then evaluates probabilities to decide what the image that it has ahead looks like. The robot knows, for example, that if the space is long and narrow, it is a corridor.

Tartalo can negotiate open doorways, but has not yet been fitted with an opening mechanism. When it encounters a closed doorway, it has been taught to knock two or three times with its feet.

The team now hopes to teach Tartalo to distinguish between many other things, such as faces, voices or any object that it is asked to fetch, in collaboration with researchers from other departments in the university.