Butler Robot Gets You Drunk Faster

beer me bot, willow garageThirsty apartment-dwellers of the future may never have to get their own frosty beverages again. Last week Willow Garage, a robotics start-up based in Menlo Park, Calif., unveiled the Beer Me robot, an automaton capable of going to the fridge, selecting its owner's beer (or cider) of choice and returning with the refreshment in its cold, metallic hand.

While Beer Me isn't performing miracles just yet, Radu Bogdan Rusu, a Willow Garage research scientist, says that the technology has a wide array of practical applications.

Who knows, perhaps robot servants are right around the corner.

"As of now, there's no industry out there for domestic robots, but if you look at where we were five years ago, having robots do anything at all was basically a dream," he explains. "Once we understand what people want in terms of robots in their home, we can start taking a shot at creating this market."

Currently Willow Garage is trying to mobilize the robotics research community, both domestically and internationally. Earlier this year the company distributed 11 PR2 bots (like the one currently running the Beer Me application) to research institutions across the world in hopes of a breakthrough in practical application. While no institution has come close to creating a friendly household robocompanion like Rosie from "The Jetsons," Rusu and fellow Willow Garage researcher Caroline Pantofaru see housebots hitting retirement communities first, then working their way into more mainstream homes.

"Since our robot can fit anywhere that a wheelchair can go, a place like a retirement home, that's structured, is ideal," explains Pantofaru. "It's not so great for someone's home where there might be stuff everywhere."

News of the birth of Beer Me Bot comes along with a tidal wave of domestic robot headlines. Earlier this year Korean scientists unveiled a robot capable of cooking and doing laundry whileTheNew York Times recently sent one of their reporters to interview an insanely realistic-looking bot known as Bina48. Currently, there are bots who can play music, comfort the elderly and create and produce their own original cartoon newscasts.

"We're definitely getting closer to having robots in the mass market, but we're pretty far from where we want to be," says Rusu. "I think we'll see this technology reach the market in one form or another in our lifetime."

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