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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 13 | September 6, 2001

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 time.

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 that."

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?"


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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