Japan always seems to host some of the world’s more interesting robotic competitions, including the World Robot Challenge — a competition where contestants compete in four categories: Industrial Robotics Assembly Challenge, Service Robotics Challenge, Disaster Robotics Challenge, and a Junior category aimed at school kids.
One event at the 2018 competition, the Tidy Up Here Test, pitted teams from several different academic institutions with cleaning a dirty bathroom — or instead, water on and around a toilet, as well as pieces of toilet paper littered around said commode. For their entry, Team Homer from the University of Koblenz-Landau (Germany) tasked Pal Robotics’ TIAGo platform, which is designed to work with humans in various workspaces.
During the competition, judges sprinkled water on and around the toilet with different sized pieces of toilet paper. Teams were required to clean 80% of the simulated urine and remove all remnants of trash to gain all the necessary points needed to win. For the robot to ‘see’ the urine, Team Homer died the water white and used a black light to highlight the water patterns so the TIAGo’s onboard RGB-D camera could easily map the liquid.
The team chose to outfit the robot with a gripper end-effector on the end of the arm and outfit it with a pair of sponges to wipe up the liquid. Unfortunately, the robot twisted the gripper while wiping the toilet rim, and was unable to get the tiny 5-cm pieces of toilet paper around the bowl. Rules state they could try as many times as needed to beat the challenge, unfortunately, time ran out before they could complete the test.
With any task assigned to robots, it takes time to develop an efficient platform and software solutions to handle a given job — be it industrial, service, or medical applications. Moving beyond Roomba for household cleaning will take time before they can tackle the rigors of a public bathroom, but that day is sure to come.