Robotic technology is advancing apace and now a top team of European scientists and engineers hope to make the leap from single function ‘dumb’ machines to adaptive learning machines.
The concept of a cognitive robotic companion inspires some of the best science fiction but one day may be science fact following the work of the four-year COGNIRON project funded since January 2004 by the IST’s Future and Emerging Technologies initiative. But what could a cognitive robot companion do?
"Well, that's a difficult question. The example that's often used is a robot that's able to fulfil your needs, like passing you a drink or helping in everyday tasks," says Dr Raja Chatila, research director at the Systems Architecture and Analysis Laboratory of the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (LAAS-CNRS), and COGNIRON project coordinator.
"That might seem a bit trivial, but let me ask you a question: In the 1970s, what was the use of a personal computer?" he asks.
It's a good point. In fact, it was then impossible to imagine how PCs would change the world's economics, politics and society in just 30 years. The eventual uses, once the technology developed, were far from trivial.
COGNIRON set out on the same principle, given that society is constantly evolving, and the project partners hope to tackle some of the key issues that need to be resolved for the development of a cognitive robot companion, which could be used as assistants for disabled and elderly people or the general population. Who wouldn't like, for instance, their breakfast ready when they awoke, deliveries accepted while they were at work and their apartment cleaned upon their return?