Robot in the works that’ll get out of jams like ‘MacGyver’

We’ll know the robot is our friend when we’re trapped together in a burning room and it grabs a piece of plywood to bridge us both to safety.

For now, though, as helpful as some robots seem — pouring us beers, building gadgets, helping elders around the house — they aren’t yet quick thinkers on their feet.

Mike Stilman at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Humanoid Robotics Lab wants to change that. He’s working on robots that can identify random objects in their environments and use them as tools to accomplish high-level tasks.

He likens the ability to that of MacGyver, the crafty television character from 1980s who used everyday objects to solve problems and escape dangerous situations.

To accomplish the robotics goal, Stilman aims to write an algorithm that mimics the human cognitive processes that allow us to turn arbitrary objects into tools  — sticks into fishing poles, beer bottles into bottle openers, etc.

Such a robot could, for example, see a chair as a stool to reach a trapped kitty cat on a high bookshelf, or grab a golf club in your boss’ burning office and use it as a lever to pry open a jammed door. 

The research is funded by a $900,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research since, in the future, robots will likely be warfighting companions and it would be helpful if they had some military-like resourcefulness. 

  — via Popular Science 

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.