RoboBusiness, Robots and Autonomy

I just got back from RoboBusiness Leadership Summit 2011 in Boston. The show went virtual last year and, as expected, the virtual show left attendees wanting more. This year they got it. The show was about the same size as it was originally a number of years ago before the economy trashed so many shows. I expect next year's iteration in Pittsburgh to be even better.

I made a number of videos that are at Engineering TV. Check out the RoboBusiness 2011 playlist. They include a discussion with Jetta, the company that built the Pleo robot. We had a closer look at the Pleo (watch Pleo the Robotic Companion Animal from Jetta).

Another robot on hand was OLogic's A.M.P. (Automated Music Personality) robot (watch The AMP Robotic Music System from OLogic). This balancing robot is a mobile boom box. Under $400, the A.M.P. is a bit expensive for a mobile purveyor of music but it is slick. It can be controlled by a smartphone and has a small puck control that can snap onto your belt so the robot will follow you. The robot does not have any obstacle sensors to keep costs down. These days no single sensor provides reliable operation indoors and outdoors and laser LIDAR costs more than the robot. The robot does use IR sensor to play follow the leader.

What will be more interesting to some is that the top of the A.M.P. can be removed providing access to the control system. This makes the A.M.P. a two wheeled robotic platform.

One of the more interesting discussions I had was with Dan Kara, the conference chair (watch Future Trends in the Robotics Industry with Dan Kara). I've known Dan for many years and he is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to the robotics industry. One of his presentations at the show touched on the trend towards autonomous robots. Our discussion for Engineering TV centered around this topic.

Right now industrial robots tend to be rigidly programmed for assembly line jobs. Remote control robots, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and those used for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), are now quite common as well but almost equally controlled by programs or people. Fully autonomous robots have been in the labs for decades and competition's like DARPA's (see DARPA Chooses Urban Challenge Semifinalists) have highlighted the possibilities. Even Google's driverless mapping car is an autonomous robot.

Semi-autonomous robots are a step in this direction. They could provide more natural waypoint operation or avoid obstacles automatically.

There were a couple of other interesting vendors at the show. One was Octoscope. They were showing off the Octobox. The OctoBox is a compact, dual chamber, anechoic RF enclosure for testing RF applications. It can be used with wireless embedded applications like robots as well as devices like smartphones and base stations. The OctoBox can sit next to a desk whereas many anechoic RF chambers are full size rooms. You never know what you will find at a RoboBusiness show.

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