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Summer = beer + robot that delivers beer

Willow Garage boffins have tweaked their PR2 robot to fetch beer from the fridge. And you didn't think humanoids were useful.

Bottoms up: Willow Garage's PR2 shows how humanoid robots can be indispensable.
Bottoms up: Willow Garage's PR2 shows how humanoid robots can be indispensable.
Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

When it's too hot to even get off your ass and stick your head in the freezer, who ya gonna call?

PR2, that's who.

Engineers at Menlo Park, Calif., robot start-up Willow Garage have hacked their PR2 humanoid platform to make it deliver fridge-fresh, cool beer straight to their desks. The droid even wields a bottle opener for easy access.

PR2 can fold towels like nobody's business. While 11 PR2s are being loaned to universities around the world as part of an open-source research project, beer-fetching chops will doubtless make them more popular.

Guinness or Bud Light? PR2's interface.
Guinness or Bud Light? PR2's interface. Willow Garage

We've seen some neat attempts to get robots to perform the supremely useful task of fetching or preparing alcohol for humans, such as Uncle Bill's BeerBot, Steve Norris' Beverage Delivery System, and of course Jamie Price's radio-controlled Bar2D2. But Willow's engineers have pulled it off very well indeed.

As part of a "summer hackathon," Willow's boffins began tweaking PR2 on a Monday with the aim of demoing its new skills on Friday. The goal was to get it to offer users a choice of beers, fetch the brew from the company fridge, then deliver up the suds to the right location.

They installed a foam block behind PR2's navigation laser at the bottom of the robot, and equipped the fridge with a self-stocking system that reduces the need for human intervention. Next, they created a Web application called Beer Me that lets users choose their drink of choice and their location. Naturally, it has a big fat Beer Me button to click.

PR2's computer vision system allows it to navigate to and recognize the fridge and the handle, after which it opens and positions itself inside the door to get the beer. If a selection isn't available, it reports that to the Web app. After it puts the bottles in its foam carrier, it scoots to the office that dispatched it. Check out the video below.

Finally, it uses face recognition to release the bottle only when a person is nearby and the beer is pulled from its manipulator. PR2 can also crack them open with a standard bottle opener. No tipping required.

Now all we need is another robot to keep the fridge stocked forever.