Electronic Design

Robobusiness 2007

Robobusiness 2007 was home to a fleet of fledgling and favorite robots. See who was kicking the tires.

Robobusiness 2007 looked like a used robomart on Tatooine. It was tough to walk around the show without bumping into a robot. There were clusters of CoroWare CoroBots and iRobot Creates but, with a few exceptions, everything was unique. The increased sophistication of robots went hand-in-hand with the size of the show and the experience of the vendors. The show was larger and the vendors and attendees were more experienced than in years past. There were plenty of old-time favorites like the human-mimicking robot from Hanson Robotics. The lifelike nature of the rocker’s face is courtesy of Hanson’s Frubber. Frubber is pliable enough to be easily moved using wires and servos. Floating and Following The diversity of robots at the show has risen to include platforms like Bluefin Robotics' Bluefin-9 and Hyrdoid’s Remus 100. These autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) were not floating around the show floor but they were garnering quite a few looks. They complement the plethora of rolling and walking robots or the UAVs (unmanned air vehicles) like the GlobalHawk. Though these large flying objects were not at the show, they were definitely a point of discussion. AUVs have been around for awhile. They are more challenging than ground- or air-based robots due to limitations like the variability of their drive systems. Still there was much interest, especially in scenarios like multiple robots cooperating to tackle problems in lakes and oceans. There were a number of presentations about AUVs as well as other large unmanned vehicles, especially those related to the U.S. Defense Departments Future Combat System (FCS) platforms. A number of smaller platforms like CoroWare’s Corobot were on display as well. The CoroBot is based on a 1.2GHz VIA Mini-ITX motherboard with 512Mbytes of RAM and a 20Gbyte hard disk suitable for software platforms like Microsoft’s Robotics Studio. The four wheel drive system supports 802.11 wireless and a 640x480 USB camera. The camera is usually mounted near the floor so it can track the gripper attached to the robotic arm. Of course, this only works when picking something up off the floor. It can lift up half a pound. Infrared range detectors are aimed front and rear. The 10A battery can run the system four about 2.4 hours and is rechargeable. The connection, however, does not lend itself to to docking. The CoroBot wheels and drive system are suitable for light outdoor operation, but the system is not water or dust proof. It can easily handle most indoor environments. The CoroBot is part of a class of systems that are essentially a mobile PC. It has enough computing power to handle a range of peripherals including a camera. It is available with or without the arm. Other vendors demonstrated a range of platforms and specialized drive systems. Ologic had many of their two-wheeled balancing robots. They also had the Follower, a cute little platform that can carry small items and follow a person. It can be used by someone with their hands full or someone who cannot easily carry an object. There was no shortage of other robotic support products, like Boston Engineering’s Flexstack and Hagisonic’s StarGazer. The FlexStack incorporates an Analog Devices Blackfin digital signal controller with 64Mbytes of RAM and 4Mbytes of flash memory. Hagisonic’s StarGazer uses an infrared approach to calculate its location in a room via small infrared sensitive markers placed on the ceiling. This simplifies a robot’s task of determining its position within an area. Taking Things In Hand A Segway RMP200 was mapping its way around the show using a SICK laser range finder. It was moving at a leisurely pace and transmitting its map to a PC used in one of the presentations. Another RMP200 was showing off presentations and collecting business cards (though I’m not sure a robot would want anything to do with business cards). There was also a four-wheeled Segway RMP400 equipped with a Barrett Technology Roboarm. The arm had a three-fingered robot hand and was interesting because it keeps all the motors in the base. The movement is accomplished via wire cables connected to the motors and the arms. Integration of the motor control on the motor reduced complexity and improved performance. The result is a system that also supports feedback, eliminating sensors and related support electronics while providing an arm that is safe to use around people. The hand has three jointed fingers, allowing it to easily grasp objects. The approach eliminates the need to build tools specifically designed for the human hand. Though I didn’t have time to write up all my observations from Robobusiness, Engineering captured much on camera. You’ll see robots not mentioned here like iRobot’s monster, capable of lifting hundred-pound gun shells. Luckily there were no live rounds on the show floor. Related Links Barrett Technology Bluefin Robotics Boston Engineering CoroWare Hagisonic Hanson Robotics Hydroid iRobot Microsoft Ologic Robobusiness Segway

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