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University of Canterbury graduate plans a robotic housekeeper

Posted on 7-Jul-2013 15:32 | Filed under: News

A University of Canterbury (UC) graduate hopes to develop a robotic housekeeper, capable of cleaning a house while the residents sleep.

Fulbright scholar Sam Corbett-Davies is considering several options for his PhD at Stanford University in California but hopes to work on robots.

"The basic issue stopping robots from achieving success beyond factory environments is the complexity and unpredictability of human spaces.

"A robot attempting to clean a kitchen will face a number of challenges that seem trivial to humans. For example, kitchens can be arranged in any number of ways, but I'm sure you could walk into any kitchen and find the cutlery almost immediately.

"A robotic maid would need to be able to operate a fridge and dishwasher, which is a monumental task. Even finding the appliance would be a challenge because of the vast array of appearances it could take, due to the brand of the device, the fact that the door may be open or closed, and, if open, the possibility of the appliance being full of dishes or food or not.

"The robot would then need to know how to operate every make and model of appliance, all of which will behave slightly differently.

"If the robot was required to share the kitchen with people during the day, even more uncertainty comes into play. In my PhD I want to develop vision systems that allow robots to deal with the cluttered environments where people live and work.

"I plan to study robotics and computer vision. I have always wanted to develop robots, which is why I did a mechatronics degree at UC. So this is really a dream come true. Stanford has a great history of robotic breakthroughs - most recently leading the development, in conjunction with Google, of a self-driving car, which, since August last year, has driven 500,000 kilometres on public roads without incident.

"I have accepted a place at Stanford�s computer science PhD programme, which is particularly exciting because they are located in the heart of Silicon Valley surrounded by Google, Facebook and Apple, making it the best place to start a career in technology."

Corbett-Davies was one of three members out of the mechatronics class of 21 to receive Fulbright scholarships, an impressive achievement for a department. He has also been granted a JR Templin Trust Scholarship.

His supervising UC lecturer, Professor Geoff Chase, says Corbett-Davies was one of the top scholars in his mechatronics programme has seen in the past five to 10 years.