But RoboEarth is more than an encyclopedia. It has a system of networked computers that allow it to perform intensive computing tasks that smaller computers — or in this case simpler robots — may not be able to. It also allows individual robots to communicate between themselves, the so-called RoboCloud of networked computers, and the robot database.
“The future in robotics and especially cloud computing is very exciting,” said Gajan Mohanaraja, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich, which is taking part in the project.
Mohanarajah was one of the core developers of the RoboCloud, sometimes called an “online brain for robots,” which was launched in March ahead of the rest of the project.
“This means we can build very lightweight and cheap robots and completely offload most of the computing to the cloud,” Mohanarajah said.
He showed off a small mapping robot he has worked up with components costing only $500. It can roll along as far as its batteries will take it, registering its environment and uploading the data to the cloud. It could be considered a miniature, stripped-down version of one of Google’s Street View cars.
Sascha Griffiths of The Technical University of Munich describes the technology his team has developed: digitizing human speech, then sending it to the RoboCloud for interpretation. What they’ve built couldn’t compete with Apple’s Siri, but it doesn’t have to: the current demonstration is limited to understanding requests a person in a hospital bed might make.
All the programming is free to use and can be developed further by anyone who wants to participate in the project.
“We only ask that people who use RoboEarth and to gather information or make improvements send what they’ve done back to the system for other people to use too,” said Heico Sandee, the program manager.