The requirement for increased automation in robotics seems to be encouraging programmers to experiment with robot applications. Not long ago, robots required numerous sensors to manoeuvre through even simple courses.
Wired Mag reports that Philipp Robbel, a student at MIT’s Personal Robotics Group, has used a hacked Xbox Kinect camera and an iRobot Create kit to make a Roomba-esque KinectBot that can recognize human beings and respond to their gestural commands.
The robot learns its surroundings by exploring and collecting information using Kinect's depth sensor. It relays that information back to a host computer which is used to essentially "paint" a map of the area that becomes details increase as the robot keeps exploring. The robot is also capable of identifying human beings, and then tracking their limbs. This allows people to direct the robot by pointing in the direction they want it to go in.
The expressiveness of Johnny 5's "eyebrows" or the lights of C3PO's peepers is missing in this visual device, the Microsoft Kinect, motion controller for the Xbox 360 game system, apparently functions like a perfect eye for the mobile robot.
The software to convert the Kinect into robot eyes first came from the online community ROS. It was later improvised by the Community College of New York (CCNY) Robotics Lab, but it was Robbel who finally assembled the device. Both the MIT and for human rescue and relief operations by locating trapped or missing people. The Kinect’s ability to map terrain in 3-D and to recognize and respond to human gestures could eventually be teamed up with aerial drones and rapid-response teams to launch rescue operations.
Researchers at the MIT Personal Robotics Group have built a prototype robot that uses Kinect to see. The robot is built using the iRobot Create platform, and is essentially a Roomba with an onboard computer.
It's pretty remarkable what the researchers at MIT have been able to do with Kinect in such a short length of time. Wonder what the Microsoft lab and numerous other tinkerers using the Kinect right now might come up with months from now!