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Manuela Veloso On Robot Companions

Manuela Veloso
Professor of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon

Veloso, 53, a professor of computer science and member of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, is turning robots from joystick-operated poles on wheels into "CoBots" — intelligent companions that can navigate and move.

"CoBots can accompany you to a particular place, give you a tour, do tasks, or stand in for you as telepresence. It seems like science fiction, but it's not. For instance, a robot within a specific building can find out where it is using Wi-Fi data, much like GPS is used outside, and then navigate around. Robots in human environments will not operate in the same way as humans — the machine can use information that we humans cannot — but they can achieve the same goals, though sometimes they'll need human help. If you ask a CoBot for a cup of coffee, since it doesn't have arms, it'll go to the kitchen and ask, 'Can you put a cup of coffee on me?' And because there tend to be more people to help in some areas than others, the robot learns the model of availability of people. That raises a beautiful research question: How does the robot know it cannot do it?"

A version of this article appeared in the April 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.