Electronic Design

Robots Crowd The Aisles In Las Vegas

Just about everyone has heard about Spirit and Opportunity, the robots that keep on trucking across the surface of Mars. And of course, there was last summer’s hit movie WALL-E, about a lovable little waste-collecting robot.

Well, you don’t have to go to Mars or the multiplex to meet a real robot. Just keep your eyes open in the aisles of the Robotics TechZone, sponsored by Robotics Trends, at the Sands. Robots may not be everywhere, but you should watch where you step anyway. While many are large, some are small, and they all will be showing off for the crowds.

Robot Handymen

Robots have moved into the mainstream. You can find them in stores, from lawnmowing marvels to robots that do the dirty work, like iRobot’s Looj (Fig. 1). This tracked gutter-buster whips its way through gunk and leaves to leave almost nothing in its wake. This portable, battery-powered robot only does one thing, but it does it well.

Of course, you also can check out the latest iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner and its competition. An industrial-strength Roomba will highlight iRobot’s Professional Series, whose models are designed for heavy traffic areas and can handle larger spaces than their siblings. There is even a Pet Series for houses like mine where stray kitty litter is the norm.

Also, iRobot offers industrial and military options. The portable PackBot will be on display, but I’m looking forward to seeing the Warrior x700. This monster can support 150-lb payloads, making it ideal for heavyduty heavyduty applications like explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), reconnaissance, and firefighting (Fig. 2). It also can handle rough terrain and even climb stairs.

Is it a toy or a tool? That’s the question when it comes to WowWee’s Rovio (Fig. 3). This three-wheeled marvel’s wireless webcam delivers telepresence capabilities. It can be controlled from almost any PC and employs Evolution Robotics’ Northstar navigation system. An infrared-based positioning system helps track the Rovio’s location within a room, and that isn’t an easy thing to do.

Check out Hagisonic’s booth for the latest in navigation systems for robots or just about any other mobile device. Its StarGazer system localization sensor and module for intelligent robots is supported by Microsoft’s Robot Developer Studio. There will also be a range of other products, including ultrasonic range finders. Both types of devices tend to be handy for service robots.

Personal Assistants

Robots also are finding more use in personal assistance applications, and many will show up at CES in a range of shapes and sizes. Most are still in the experimental stage, but they are becoming more robust. Or if you’re just looking for a beer, stop by OLogic’s booth and take a look at the “butler.” This 3-ft high, two-wheeled assistant can carry all sorts of things.

We’ll have to see if Anybot’s sophisticated Dexter articulated service robot will grace us with its presence (Fig. 4). You’ll know if you bump into Dexter, since this walking biped is almost 6 ft tall and weighs 135 lbs. Meanwhile, Korean-based Yujin Robot should have even more interesting servicebased robots on display, if last year’s offerings are any indication. This company covers a range of robotic products from industrial to educational. I bet one of the company’s Plus A robots will be keeping its booth clean.

So if you are looking for robots to play, robots to work, or robots to research, the 2009 International CES will have something for you. Just be polite if you bump into one.

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