Cloud-Based Brain (Raptuya) for Robots 31001
A group of European researchers has created a cloud platform designed to serve as a central processing and data-access brains for robots located throughout the world.
A group of European researchers has released the first version of a cloud computing platform for robots (1) (Rapyuta) that will help them take advantage of powerful virtual resources. Essentially, they’re treating robots like any other device (desktop, tablet or mobile phone) running web applications, only robots can learn from each other and can do a lot more than just update screen displays.
The project, carried out by a team at ETH Zurich, is called RoboEarth and its linchpin is a cloud software platform called Rapyuta. The way it works is pretty simple at a high level: robots communicate with a cloud-based application platform that carries out computation tasks and connects to a cloud database full of information such as maps, images, language, as well as to other web services. The robots themselves are pretty much hardware terminals equipped with sensors and moving parts but limited on-board processing power or data storage.
This, of course, is an idea that has been with us since the mainframe computer and continues today via cloud computing and web and mobile applications. Why limit a device to its own physical capabilities when there’s an infinite (although, in the case of mainframes, not so much) expanse of computing power, memory, storage and data available in the ether? As long as the device has a strong internet connection, it doesn’t need a massive hard drive or the latest, greatest processor.
One thing RoboEarth does a little differently, though, is allow for databases that robots can update as they go about their business in different situations in different parts of the world. It’s machine learning, only in a much more literal sense: robots are actually learn from the experiences of other robots. That learning, in turn, should make them more useful to humans who won’t have to program them as thoroughly and perhaps can use the robots to perform a wider — and ever-expanding — variety of tasks.
Presumably, though, some statistical machine learning on the backend could make the robots even smarter as they generate more and more data and patterns begin taking shape. (We’ll be talking about unique ways to put machine learning to work at our Structure: Data conference next week in New York.)
The easy joke to make about this type of project is to say it’s the start of SkyNet and the rise of the machines, but that’s a bit of a stretch. After all, the machines themselves aren’t communicating with one another but, rather, with a centralized computing infrastructure operated by humans. It’s similar to IBM’s Watson system, which is really good at answering questions, but only as good as its information database and algorithms allow it to be.
1- Rapyuta: The RoboEarth Cloud Engine: We announce the first public release of Rapyuta: The RoboEarth Cloud Engine. Rapyuta is an open source cloud robotics platform for robots. It implements a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) framework designed specifically for robotics applications. Rapyuta helps robots to offload heavy computation by providing secured customizable computing environments in the cloud. Robots can start their own computational environment, launch any computational node uploaded by the developer, and communicate with the launched nodes using the WebSockets protocol. The name Rapyuta is inspired from the movie Tenku no Shiro Rapyuta (English title: Castle in the Sky) by Hayao Miyazaki, where Rapyuta is the castle in the sky inhabited by robots.