If you walk into the computer science building at Stanford University, Mobi is standing in the lobby, encased in glass. He looks a bit like a garbage can, with a rod for a neck and a camera for eyes. He was one of several robots developed at Stanford in the 1980s to study how machines
might learn to navigate their environment—a stepping stone toward intelligent robots that could live and work alongside humans. He worked, but not especially well. The best he could do was follow a path along a wall. Like so many other robots, his “brain” was on the small side.
Now, just down the hall from Mobi, scientists led by roboticist Ashutosh Saxena are taking this mission several steps further. They’re working to build machines that can see, hear, comprehend natural language (both written and spoken), and develop an understanding of the world around them, in much the same way that people do.
Today, backed by funding from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, Saxena and his team unveiled what they call RoboBrain, a kind of online service packed with information and artificial intelligence software that any robot could tap into. Working alongside researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, Brown University, and Cornell University, they hope to create a massive online “brain” that can help all robots navigate and even understand the world around them. “The purpose,” says Saxena, who dreamed it all up, “is to build a very good knowledge graph—or a knowledge base—for robots to use.”…