If there’s one thing science fiction has taught us, it’s that people are suspicious of robots. And we have good reason to be — not because they’re likely to intentionally hurt us, but because they might do so inadvertently. Robots have killed a number of people in factory settings over the years, and in every case that’s been the result of the robot simply doing what it was programmed to do when a human got in the way. That is obviously unacceptable, which is why Robot DE NIRO is designed for caregiving with safety in mind.
Robot DE NIRO was created by researchers from the Imperial College London’s Robot Intelligence Lab. Physically, it’s built on a Rethink Robotics Baxter robot that has been mounted on a mobile wheeled base. Baxter is a factory automation robot with two 7-degrees of freedom arms, and was also designed with safety as the top priority. If Baxter makes contact with anything it’s not intending to, like a factory worker, it will immediately sense that and stop what it’s doing.
That same philosophy is at the core of Robot DE NIRO’s design, and that has been taken a couple of steps further with additional sensors and machine learning. It’s built on the open source Robot Operating System (ROS), and can be trained to perform tasks like retrieving medication. Its sensors allow it to navigate safely through the real-world dynamic environments that people actually live in, and its self-awareness gives it the ability to safely interact with people in those environments. Robot DE NIRO is just a prototype for now, but the team hopes that it will eventually serve as the basis for robotic caregivers.