Facebook for Robots Helps Droids Get Smarter

Being a robot just got a little bit more sociable, now that droids have their own social network. At MyRobots.com, which launched today, robot owners can sign-up their automatons, create profiles for them - even include a photo and a name - and then leave them to update their own status. This might be a simple temperature reading - or the results of a clever face-recognition algorithm.

"You can see MyRobots.com as the Facebook for robots and smart objects," says project co-ordinator Carlos Asmat of Montreal, Canada. Like Facebook, signing up is free, although that may change in the future.

But while Facebook is often criticised for emphasising the duller aspects of human life ("Bored. When can I go to the pub?" or "I need pizza") , the exchange of seemingly mundane status updates between robots ("I am overheating and need a rest" or "I am a vacuum cleaner and I am stuck") could make them a lot smarter.

At the very least, such updates - which could come from stationary household objects as well as moving robots - could allow humans to come to the rescue. More interestingly, by allowing robots to pool information, they could lead to much more intelligent decision-making. "Not all robots have the same sensors or the same access to information," says Asmat.

For example, a stove and a fridge signed up to the site might detect usage, while a humanoid patroller robot might notice lots of people in the house. The next day, a robot vacuum could then deduce from those updates that there was a party, and that it should clean more because the house might be dirtier - all without the intervention of a human. "These examples can be seen as science fiction at the moment but are very close to become a reality," says Asmat

Right now the site is open only geared up to serve the Nao (pictured above), a 50cm tall, white plastic humanoid made by Aldebaran Robotics in Paris France, as well as devices that run on the Arduino microcontroller popular with electronics hobbyists. But the plan is for more robots and devices to be accepted in future.

It's not the first effort to harness the web to enhance robot communication. RoboEarth has been touted as the world wide web for robots. Robots upload their experiences at solving a particular task, allowing other robots to learn from that data. It is mainly designed for research roboticists, whereas MyRobots.com is about consumers. "Our main focus is to provide services that augment robot performance for end-users in a friendly way," says Asmat.

MyRobots.com is also planning to host a robot app store, though Asmat says that unlike apps for cell phones, at MyRobots.com the emphasis will be on cloud-based software so that the robots' resources are kept as free as possible.

Will the Facebook of robots catch on? There may not yet be enough robot owners to sustain the effort. But if MyRobots really does make robots smarter as promised, and therefore more useful, then MyRobots should help to overcome its own biggest stumbling block.

Image: Yoshikazu Tsuno/ AFP/Getty Images)

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