Smithsonian Adds to Robotics Collection

Gill Pratt, program manager for robotic science at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, says it won't be too long before robots are available that can clean up a table, put dishes in a washer and then stack them in a cabinet.

But Pratt isn't expecting robots to do things that can do much beyond "a very slice of what humans can do well."

IBM's Watson, for instance, in its competition on TV's Jeopardy, doesn't have common sense or really understand the topics it had to deal with on the game show, said Pratt. "It's just particularly good at the extraction task of finding those answers," he said.

What Pratt wants are robots that are able to go into a dangerous environment to conduct certain tasks, such as fetch a particular item. "I want to stop using people for those tasks, particularly if it is in a military environment," he said.

The Smithsonian also added donations relating to the development of autonomous mobile robot technology by Velodyne, including a laser vision system used in DARPA's grand challenge races.

The Smithsonian's collecting efforts will, of course, be ongoing. "When there are breakthroughs that we can identify as historically significant in the history of robotics, we want to collect them," Stephens said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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