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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 09:02 GMT
Mars rover inspires toy robot
Personal Rover
Rover uses a special digital camera to see
Drawing inspiration from the US space agency's Mars rover, scientists in the US are working on creating a robot that can teach children about science.

Researchers at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have already created a simple version of the rover, called a Trikebot.

The aim of the project is to develop a low-cost, sturdy toy robot in the next two years.

"The idea is to make a rover just like the Mars rover, but to make one that children can use to do science at home, just like the Mars rover is used to do science on Mars," said Illah Nourbakhsh, assistant professor of robotics at CMU.

Serious play

The current Personal Rover prototype is a lanky machine, which can find its way around a room and go up steps.

It can even play fetch, chasing a bright orange-coloured ball. It uses a special low-cost digital camera developed at CMU which has the ability to track colours.

Personal Rover
The robot can climb steps
The CMU team says that although the rover is intended as a toy for children, there is a serious side to its work.

The team hopes children will learn about the abilities and limitations of robots.

"A child will be able to design the exploration for the robot for the day," Professor Nourbakhsh told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"Then when the child goes to school or goes to sleep, the rover can go outside and take pictures of what's happening in their back yard."

Expensive toys

The researchers aim to have the Personal Rover ready by 2004. They hope that by then they will be able to reduce the cost of the robot.

At the moment the robots costs $4,000 to make but the team is confident that it will be able to manufacture the rover for less than $500 each.

"If we can make a robot that is inexpensive enough that people can actually afford it, and we can put it in the real world, kids will have available a new tool for creativity," he said.

"We want a robot that is expressive enough and interesting enough to play with," said Professor Nourbakhsh, so that children can develop a long-term relationship with it like they do with a dog or cat.

See also:

10 Sep 01 | Artificial intelligence
10 Sep 01 | Artificial intelligence
23 Aug 02 | Science/Nature
29 May 02 | Science/Nature
28 Jul 00 | Science/Nature
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