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Robot Waiter Outperforms Humans: Spill-Free Tea Serving with Centuries-Old Math

Researchers at the Munich Institute for Robotics and Machine Intelligence (MIRMI) at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed a groundbreaking model that allows a robot to serve tea and coffee faster and safer than a human, without spilling a drop. The fascinating part? The mathematics behind this concept is over 300 years old.

Can a robot be a better waiter than a human? Dr. Luis Figueredo, a senior researcher on Prof. Sami Haddadin's team, sought to answer this question. He installed a Franka Emika robotic arm with seven degrees of freedom and connected a computer to it. The robot's hand effortlessly grabs a glass filled to the brim with water, lifts it up, and sways it to the side without spilling a drop. "And he does it faster and safer than a human," says Figueredo.

But how does it work? The team simply "fed" the robot with algebraic formulas that are several centuries old, using the Moroccan tea tray as the basis of mathematics, which applies the principle of a spherical pendulum.

Figueredo and his team implemented the dynamics of a spherical pendulum into robot control software, limiting the robot's movements by the basic principles of geometry. They also integrated the correct angles, speed, and acceleration into the model. "When you understand how the pendulum moves and works, it's pretty simple," says Figueredo.

Unlike other approaches that focus on limiting acceleration to control liquid agitation or use fluid dynamics to predict trajectories, this model is simpler, faster, and more reliable.

As a practical application of their work, scientists propose to use innovative robotic support for the elderly and those in need of care. However, Figueredo believes that industries involved in the transportation of materials that pose a biological and chemical hazard are also likely to be interested in such a solution.

Safety remains a critical issue, and ideally, a robot should be able to recognize dangerous situations. "For that, we need to improve his perception," says Figueredo. Sensors will allow the machine not only to recognize people but also to predict their movements, completely eliminating collisions with the robot.

Currently, the robot works with tactile sensors as a defense mechanism. In the "slosh-free" mode, the robot's arm instantly backs out when it senses a collision, while still keeping the liquid safe.

In conclusion, the development at MIRMI showcases the potential of robots in the service industry. By hiring robots equipped with this technology, businesses can provide efficient, spill-free service, enhancing customer experience and operational efficiency.

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