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Robots make a clean sweep

Robots get down to some household chores.

(voronoi.sbp.ri.cmu.edu)

Robots which dust, wipe, clean and scrub are being put through their paces this week at the first international cleaning robot competition in Lausanne.

The event is one of the highlights of a week-long international conference on intelligent robots.

The machines will be performing household chores as quickly and efficiently as they can in a mock-up living room at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Window cleaning is also on the agenda.

When they're not participating in the clean-up, hundreds of experts from around the world will present their latest research.

"Up to now, robot competitions have mostly focused on funny things like soccer," said robotics expert, Roland Siegwart, from Lausanne.

"This time we want to show that mobile robots have good applications for cleaning. It could be in your home or big surfaces at airports."

Surgery from afar

So-called "tele-surgery" is also a focus of the meeting, which is to be addressed by Professor Jacques Marescaux of Strasburg University.

Last September, he successfully carried out the first transatlantic tele-surgical operation, and will discuss the use of robots in surgery.

From New York, he operated on a 68-year-old patient hospitalised at Strasburg with the aid of robotics and a high speed Internet link.

"With remote operation, you don't have to fly people from one place to another to get the best treatment," said Siegwart.

"From far away, a surgeon could treat a patient in another place. This allows us to offer people the best treatment they can get from all over the world."

Lack of intelligence

Siegwart said that despite recent advances, science was still a long way from having really intelligent systems.

"Surgery is interesting because robots can offer something, but there's still an extremely strong collaboration between the surgeon and the robot.

"The robot doesn't really have to be intelligent. He is more or less a servant. He helps the surgeon to do his task because, for example, robots can hold instruments much more easily than humans without vibration and movement."

Other highlights of the conference include a presentation by Sony Corporation of Japan of the company's first humanoid robot.

Some 15 spin-off companies in the field of robotics, including four from Lausanne, will be presenting their latest products.

swissinfo, Vincent Landon

Key facts

World experts attend robots conference in Lausanne.
Final of first international cleaning robot competition.
Pioneer of tele-surgery gives keynote address.

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