Friday, 15 May, 2009 Technology

Robot Travels Across City Asking Humans for Directions


German engineers launched an Autonomous City Explorer (ACE) on a mission to find its way to a specific location in Munich. The robot's starting point was the Technical University of Munich and its final destination was the Marienplatz in the center of Munich, 1.5 km away from the University.

ACE was not equipped with a map or GPS system, thus the only way it could get to the final destination is by asking people on the streets for directions. The robot managed to reach finish after interacting with 38 people and spending about 5 hours.

According to the lead researcher, Martin Buss at TUM, the robot was going fine until it reached a pedestrian area were it was surrounded by people who wanted to talk or simply stare at ACE.

The results of the experiment show that robots are able to take advantage of human intelligence when traveling through an unknown environment, reports

The robot identifies a nearby person by motion and upright posture. Then it approaches and asks for direction. As ACE moves towards an identified human, its "head" turns so it could show the human its touchscreen, featuring an animated mouth.

With the help of a speaker that works in synch with the mouth, ACE asks the person to touch the screen in case they want to help. Afterwards the speaker asks the person to point in the right direction, which the robot identifies with the help of posture recognition software. Before heading off, it says "Thank you".

One of the persons met by ACE had shown the wrong direction, which the robot followed until it met an obstacle. The robot then required new information, which it soon received and went back on the right path.

Currently, scientists are working on a special system that would verify the correctness of the directions, in order to avoid any mistakes.

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