Waiter, there's a bug in your suit
Personality and hard-working drive win the day for José
When it comes to robots, the Computer Science Dept.'s José
really takes the cake.
For that matter, he'll take any kind of food, and then serve it
to guests with panache.
José and his pal Eric were both programmed by graduate
students to serve hors d'oeuvres to party guests.
Eric got so good at it, he was entered into a serving contest at
the American Association for Artificial Intelligence's 10th annual
Mobile Robot Competition last month in Seattle. Just days before
the competition though, Eric's hard-drive crashed and his understudy,
José, was pressed into service.
Fortunately, José and Eric are the same size, so Eric's
tuxedo didn't require any last-minute alterations.
Once appropriately decked out in Eric's Armani and white gloves,
José worked the room with aplomb, offering appetizers to
guests with a smile. Those who helped themselves before being asked
were admonished with a frown.
Actually, his face only appears on a laptop computer screen, but
it's sufficient to dissuade greedy humans from trying it a second
When it was all over, José took home first place. Technically
the prize went to the team of six students who developed and trained
José by writing and re-writing his software.
José faced some stiff competition with entries from Kansas
State University, Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College, the Seattle
Robotics Society and the University of Aveiro in Portugal.
He scored extra points for having a voice that enabled him to
verbally offer hors d'oeuvres, and occasionally kibitz with guests
with friendly jibes such as "Would you like fries with that?"
He also scored well for discerning people from objects by identifying
flesh tones with his five video cameras. And he identified people
who hadn't yet been served, which was one of the competition requirements.
"If you take something from the tray before he reaches the group
of people he has chosen as his destination, he assumes you're stealing
it," explains team leader Pantelis Elinas. "So he complains about
Perhaps best of all, José knew when his serving tray was
empty, prompting him to return to home base to get more hors d'oeuvres.
The other grad student roboteurs are Jesse Hoey, Darrel Lahey,
Jeff Montgomery, Don Murray and Kangkang Yin. They were assisted
by Computer Science professors Jim Little, David Lowe, Alan Mackworth
and post doctoral fellow Stephen Se.
José's next shift is at an upcoming federal government
sponsored breakfast attended by Industry Minister Brian Tobin. José
is clearly up to the task, but in keeping with protocol, the students
will help him learn a bit of French.
"Un croissant, Monsieur Tobin?"