twenty-five hundred points in each image. Then I projected them into the 3-D grid, where the data from all these measurements accumulated. The results that I got really made my day. They were just as good as I’d hoped–at the upper end of my expectations. The speed was such that I could process a glimpse of the world in two to five seconds on the work station I had at that time, which could do a hundred million calculations a second. That’s not really fast enough for a practical robot, but getting real close.
With a machine that could do a thousand million calculations a second, I could process a glimpse faster than once a second. That, in my opinion, is fast enough for a slow-moving indoor robot. Basically a few glimpses is all that’s necessary to build a pretty dense three-dimensional map. There were more distractions when I got back. This was in 96, and until 97 and 98. But I felt more and more the urgency to bring this to actually get a prototype that could start a commercial venture. Fortunately it looks like I’ve now got funding for three years to do just that single-mindedly. By the way, you can find all this on my web page if you want more detail.
David: How do you see robotics helping to extend human life span in the near future?
Hans: Oh, I don’t think it has much to do with it in the near future, except in that robots are helping in the biomedical labs. A lot of molecular biology is done by these little laboratory robots that do hundreds of tests at once.
David: I love the image in your book of a bush robot, with a trillion different fingers, operating on every cell in the body simultaneously.
Hans: That’s a long term thing, although we’ve actually got a contract to study that idea. We built two models. You can find it all on my web page. When you go to the main page you’ll find a link to publications, and in there there’s a link to everything. One of the first entries is the final report for that NASA contract, the Bush Robot contract. In the preface and a couple of other sections you’ll find pictures of these models, as well as the theory behind it.
There’s also a proposal for research that, I believe, will lead to this commercial prototype, and the plans to how to go on from there. It leads to what you find in chapter 4 of my book–which is initially industrial robots that can be installed and redirected to new tasks by ordinary factory workers. For instance, point-to-point delivery robots, where somebody just shows it where to go basically, and then it’s able to do that reliably for at least six months at a time, being able to deal with all the contingencies that are likely to come up over that long a period. Floor-cleaning robots were made by several companies in the Eighties, but none of them succeeded in finding a real market for them, although a lot of them were tested in places.
The problem is that the floor-cleaning application just doesn’t warrant a specialist being being called in (laughter) to map the particular area that has to be washed. What you’d like is something where a maintenance supervisor can manage a fleet of a half dozen or a dozen cleaning robots. Someone can get them started at night, and then each one would be doing a different room or corridor. It would just have to be started up, then it would handle the rest of the job itself. These would be machines that wash and scrub the floor, then suck up the water and recycle it. These could be used at night for cleaning large areas.
There are currently about a hundred security robots in use that patrol warehouse. They are connected by radio to a central guard station, where they send a light and a bell if they detect any motion. The central guard can control a bunch of them, and the robots themselves are widespread over a series of warehouses.
If these robots were smart enough to be used by somebody that’s not specially trained, then they’d have a