Where did I put that? Engineers create robot to find misplaced items

The solution to missing keys, earbuds and watches might be a robot that’s always watching where you put them, according to some engineers. — dpa

LONDON: Phone, house keys, wallet, glasses, car key, earbuds, small change: The jumble of items to be worn, taken off, left on a table, put in a pocket or fumbled from here to there in the course of a busy day can make it easy to misplace something now and then.

Most of the time, the frustration-inducing missing item shows up, even if it is six months later under a cushion or behind a settee.

But even a day without a wallet or phone can prove too long. And, for those who take that road, there is the inconvenience and expense that goes with replacing even a temporarily misplaced item.

Engineers at the University of Waterloo think they have found a solution: Programming robots to locate items thought to have been lost around the house.

The team took a Fetch mobile manipulator robot, which comes with a camera used to take in its surroundings, and programmed it using an object-detection algorithm to detect, track and keep a log of specific objects in its stored video.

The next step was to develop a graphical interface to enable users to choose objects they want to be tracked, and, after typing the objects’ names, search for them on a smartphone app or computer, which in turn prompts the robot to indicate when and where it last observed the object.

The team said the work is primarily for people living with dementia, a debilitating condition that leaves sufferers often unable to remember where they left items, which in this case could include vital medication.

They say if the tech seems daunting for people with dementia, then caregivers should be capable of operating it.

“The long-term impact of this is really exciting,” said Ali Ayub, a post-doctoral fellow in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo. – dpa

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