The E.U. funded URUS Project (Ubiquitous networking Robotics in Urban Settings) ran from 2006 to 2009, leading to the development of a pair of mobile outdoor service robots. The robots would autonomously navigate urban spaces, providing service information and guiding people to their destinations. Named after a mountain overlooking Barcelona, Tibi (orange) and Dabo (blue) were built at the Technical University of Catalonia (Institute of Robotics) and designed by ESDI (Escola Superior de Disseny) in Spain. Both robots were equipped with GPS sensors, stereo cameras, front and rear-facing laser range finders, and a chest-level touch screen. All of this was then mounted on top of a standard Segway, which provided a cheap mobile platform. According to the designers at ESDI, the robots were designed to reflect universal complementary opposites, such as masculinity and femininity or the Yin and Yang of Chinese philosophy. The robots were then used to research outdoor navigation and human-robot interaction.
For example, a person would call for assistance using their cell phone, the network would use the cell phone data to locate the person, allowing the robot to then find them. You could then interact with Tibi or Dabo through your phone, through natural spoken language, or via the robot’s touch screen. Furthermore, the robot could use simple arm gestures and had a friendly face for more natural communication.
The robotics network would include the use of RFID tags, access to cell phone geographical data, a vast wireless network, as well as surveillance cameras and other sensors installed virtually everywhere. A large part of the project also called for the research and development of cooperative autonomous cars and transportation robots that could haul people and goods to reduce congestion in European cities. The network would allow the robots to share information to improve their navigation or support surveillance cameras with their ground-level mobile cameras.
My main problem with these types of scenarios is that despite their good intentions, if they were ever fully implemented it seems to me their potential for abuse by dictatorial powers vastly outweighs their advertised benefits to society. Thankfully these developments are still in their infancy, so we don’t have to worry too much about them.
A few videos of the robots follow after the break.
Video (Tibi and Dabo):
Video (Futuris news report):
Video (design interview [Spanish]):
URUS Project website