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March 3, 2011

“Cloud Robotics” Research Aims to Create Smaller, Smarter Machines

Nicole Hemsoth

Robotics is anything but a static field with a continuous stream of advancements adding to both the compexity and possibility behind each new development. A new subfield–“cloud robotics”–is emerging as a hot topic in research. As one might imagine, instead of relying on “in-house” resources, robots can potentially leverage the cloud to deliver instant information and to handle computationally-intensive tasks that would otherwise use a great deal of a robots on-board system.

Erico Guizzo from IEEE’s Spectrum pointed out that while we are unable to upload information directly into our “meat brains” to have instant access to information to help us perform tasks (ala The Matrix) robots have that advantage.

Recent research projects are leveraging information stored in the great vast cloud to enable robots to quickly acquire the skills and knowledge they need in the blink of an eye. Furthermore, the notion of cloud-driven robots means that there is the possibility for a robot to cast off heavy-duty computation to the cloud so that it can free up resources for other tasks, thus providing the opportunity for added sophistication due to more resources becoming available.

As Guizzo reported, there are a number of research groups that are exploring the idea of “robots that rely on cloud computing infrastructure to access vast amounts of processing power and data. This approach, which some are calling ‘cloud robotics’ would allow robots to off-load compute-intensive tasks like image processing and voice recognition and even download new skills instantly, Matrix-style.”

One of the more promising aspects of this idea goes beyond the “cool” factor of offloading and instant skill “level-up” via cloud-stored information. This also means that robots can decrease in size since so many are forced to carry extensive on-board computation—a serious task considering the computationally-intensive tasks that most robots perform.

In addition to the computers they need to schlep around are some seriously heavy-duty power sources, most often in the form of batteries to keep the computation and movement humming along. Reduced need for extensive on-board computation means less power usage—which combined means the possibility for much smaller robots.

Full story at IEEE Spectrum