Hey robots, census wants to know all about you

Data gathering for the U.S. 2010 Census may be finished, but it's just begun for Carnegie Mellon's Robot Census 2010. Have a robot? Let it stand up and be counted.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
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Leslie Katz

Carnegie Mellon Robot Census
Carnegie Mellon Robot Census

Results of the census, we are told, can influence the allocation of federal funds for education programs, law enforcement, and highways--and apparently tell us how many crazy robots are running loose.

Well, at least the Carnegie Mellon Robot Census 2010 can tell us the last one. So far, it has tallied 547 robots on the CMU campus, including Tank LaFleur the "roboceptionist," Boss, winner of the 2008 DARPA Grand Challenge, and "="" rel="nofollow" class="c-regularLink" target="_blank">Opto-Isolator, the artbot that watches you with its big roving eye.

It all started when Heather Knight, a first-year Ph.D. student at CMU's Robotics Institute, decided bots at the school deserved to stand up and be formally counted.

Among the CMU robots counted: Tank LaFleur the "roboceptionist." Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute

"As much as we're here for the professors," she explained, "we're also here for the robots." With CMU a hub for wild and wacky bots and no comprehensive tally of them, the obvious next step was a census, she said.

Knight and designer friend Chris Becker created an online form (PDF) seeking information on the robots--when they were created and by whom; their working status; predominant characteristics such as degrees of freedom, dominant sensors, modes of connectivity, and even their gender. (The two autonomously driving NavLab vehicles submitted were declared male "because they don't even need to ask for directions," Knight said.)

Knight then distributed the survey within the Robotics Institute via e-mail and soon after went beyond CMU and its environs to count 135 robots at the Maker Faire in New York in September.

Now, as a far deeper investigation into the distribution of robots, Knight has expanded the project to include all bots--service, hobby, research, entertainment, medical, education--in all corners of our increasingly roboticized world.

"I want to use the data to understand our relationship with technology, pave the way for new applications, and re-brand the scope of robotics to include friendly everyday social machines," Knight told CNET. And, she adds, "It's a PR campaign for the friendly robot revolution."

If you want your robot to be counted, register it here.