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August 18, 2011

A Robot that Makes Cookies? Awesome!



Have you ever wished you had a robot that could do cool stuff for you like baking cookies? Well, your wish may not be that far fetched. Scientists at MIT are working on a robot that can bake cookies.

Who made and programmed the robot?

The robot is called PR2 and it was developed by a company called Willow Garage. They make the robot, but MIT students are doing the programming for baking the cookies. There are actually a number of students involved. Mario Bollini is one student working on programming the robot to mix up the ingredients. Other students, like Jenny Barry, are working on having the robot clean up the counter and put the cookies into the oven to bake.

Is it hard to program?

At first glance, it would seem that programming a robot to bake cookies is a simple task, but it's actually pretty complicated. Sometimes the simplest things for a human to do can be very complex for a robot. First the robot has to use visual sensors to scan the counter and get an image of it. Then the programmers have to have software to examine all the bits of data in the image to determine what ingredients are where. The whole task takes lots of programming code and careful planning using something called hierarchical software.

One of the main things that students learn when taking on a larger programming task like this is how to break down a larger task, like baking cookies, into a number of smaller tasks. If they plan things correctly, different programmers can work on different parts of the program and it will all work together in the end. This is a common way of writing large programs in engineering.

About the PR2 robot

The PR2 robot was designed by a company called Willow Garage. It's main "brains" are two high-end processors from Intel called i7 Xeon Processors. It also has 24GB of memory and large hard drives for storing data and programs. The PR2 has a number of sensors and cameras so it can tell what is going on in the outside world. It even has a full Gigabit Ethernet network inside so all its sensors and cameras can communicate with is processors. If you compare it to a human, the CPU is the brains, the sensors and cameras are its senses, and the Ethernet network is its central nervous system.

You are probably wondering if the cookies are any good. We aren't sure yet, but we hope so. We also hope that soon robots will be baking cakes, making sandwiches, and all sorts of goodies.

You can read more about this project on the MIT site at:

http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/cookies-anyone.html

and at the Willow Garage site at:

http://www.willowgarage.com/

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