Research pinnacle met: Robot butler microwaves meals

If “Judgement Day” ever arrives and Terminator robots take over the world, at least we’ll eat well. Herb, the Home Exploring Robot Butler, is a Carnegie Mellon project that has both the sensors and the smarts to microwave a meal. The idea behind Herb is finding ways that bring robots into the home as opposed to their current uses in the military and production lines.

Here’s a look at Herb microwave a meal, found via the IEEE Spectrum blog.


The activity of warming a meal may not sound too exciting, but Herb is doing so autonomously. According to Siddhartha Srinivasa of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, the experiment is taking place in the same kitchen that CMU’s staff uses. Using lasers and a camera, Herb navigates through the task on his own, which is a challenge considering the space itself is designed for humans to use, not bulky robots.

Herb’s base is a modified Segway, so he’s self-balancing by default and his two robotic arms are similar to that of human, complete with a shoulder, an elbow and wrist. Herb uses the arms to supplement what he “sees” in the environment, often reaching out and touching walls and objects to aid in navigation. Instead of gear-driven arms, Herb’s components are cable-driven, because object placement in human spaces are typically not precise as placement in a manufacturing line; robots there often move to very specific points only.

Herb won’t be replacing home cooked meals any time soon, but the progress that Srinivasa’s team has made is very encouraging. Similar robots could help assist the elderly or physically disabled through various autonomous tasks as robots continue to gain mobility and the intelligence to navigate through their environments.