The wonderful PR2 robot can do plenty of things food-wise — bake cookies, fix a sausage breakfast, fetch beer — but it’s usually following some set of directions when it does these things. Now, semantic search enables PR2 to figure out how to do things on its own.

Imagine if you didn’t have any beer for it to fetch. Based on its database, it would determine that beer is a beverage, and beverages are usually sold at stores, and that there’s a store down the street. Then it would go there and get you your beer. Or a sandwich, as in this case.

Students at the University of Tokyo and Technische Universität München equipped a PR2 with some maps of its surroundings, and asked it to go find a sandwich. With semantic search capabilities, the PR2 is able to infer information about unknown things based on their relationship to other, known things. For instance, it knows that a sandwich is food, and that food is usually found in places like refrigerators or sandwich shops, as IEEE explains. Its maps tell it where those places are, so the robot can figure out where to go autonomously.

First it checks the fridge, and finding no sandwich there, decides it must look for other locations in which sandwiches are found. Backpack strapped on, PR2 rolls to the elevator and rides to the lower level. Watch its adventure below.

The research team presented their work last week at IROS 2011 in San Francisco, according to IEEE.

IEEE Spectrum