Domo Arigato, Mr. Domo

by Paul Jay, CBC News Online

Move over Japan, researchers in the U.S. are muscling in on the burgeoning research field of robots-as-butlers.

On Wednesday, MIT unveiled a humanoid robot called Domo that can grasp objects and place them on shelves or counters.

Rodney Brooks, the director of MIT's computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory, said in a statement Domo is part of a next generation of robots designed to interact with humans.

As MIT's press release says:

"Robots in an automobile factory manipulate objects, but they do the same thing, along the same path, every time," Brooks said. "If robots are ever going to be truly useful, they need to be able to manipulate the objects we manipulate."

While the robot hasn't been programmed with any emotion chip, it can sense when a human is touching it, and respond accordingly, the researchers said. Springs in its arms, hands and neck allow it to sense force and respond to it.

"By placing that spring in there, you get physical compliance that makes the whole body sort of springy, which makes it safer for human interaction," Edsinger said. But if you apply too much force or move Domo's arms in the wrong direction, it voices its displeasure by saying "ouch."

The army of robot maids, butlers and stock-boys probably isn't coming down the pipe anytime soon, if only because even seemingly simple acts like walking are proving incredibly complex for robots to master. Some robots are getting it, but it's still a work in progress for even the best robots.

But the research is welcome news for those looking for help around the house, or perhaps people hoping to free up time to talk to their kids. That is, if their kids aren't busy with other things.