Mobile robot development gets significantly easier when it’s possible to buy at least some of the hardware and software instead of building the robot from scratch. Several large research robots like the PR2 from Willow Garage and the Jazz from Gostai are readily available (see “Cooperation Leads To Smarter Robots” at electronicdesign.com).
Robotics And Tablets
The iRobot Ava Mobile Robotics Platform (Fig. 1) uses standard components like a Motorola Xoom for display and user interaction as well as a 3D sensor from PrimeSense that’s the basis for Microsoft’s Kinect (see “How Microsoft’s PrimeSense-based Kinect Really Works” at electronicdesign.com). The platform is tablet agnostic, so it could easily handle an Apple iPad.
The Ava is designed as a telepresence platform. The base includes the drive motors for the omnidirectional drive as well as contact bump and cliff sensors. It also has a laser scanner on the front and ultrasonic sensors. And, the base has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, making it easy to link to any tablet or smart phone.
The main control computer in the base runs iRobot’s Aware 2 Robot Intelligence software (see “Frameworks Make Robotics Development Easy—Or Easier, At Least” at electronicdesign.com). Aware 2 offers a significant advantage to developers: behavior-based programming support in addition to communication, coordination, and visualization frameworks. It is being used in multi-robot environments.
A tablet is also a good way to control the Ava, although it does not have to match the one used for telepresence support. Many mobile robotic systems employ a Web interface.
The C-Link Systems Forager robot platform can handle significantly heftier payloads than Ava (Fig. 2). The electric, six-wheeled robot houses one or more Freescale Tower systems (see “Prototyping A Tower” at electronicdesign.com). The interior and exterior are designed for rugged outdoor use.
C-Link Systems sells robot platforms such as the Forager as well as Tower-compatible boards that target robotic applications. For example, the cLS-FSTS-INS navigation board includes a three-axis gyro, a three-axis accelerometer, an electronic compass, and a Furuno GPS module. An onboard Freescale Coldfire MFC5212CAE66 processor handles sensor integration as well as communication chores.
The cLS-FSTS-FPGA board can manage heavy-duty computing. It has an Altera Cyclone III FPGA with 612 kbytes of SRAM. Other boards include the cLS-FSTS-MC2-5 two-axis dc motor drive. ZigBee wireless communication requirements might be met with the cLS-FSTS-COMM board, which has Digi International’s XBee module.
C-Link Systems provides support software such as driver code, but robotic frameworks will be up to the designer. Also, check out Parrot’s AR.Drone Quadricopter, which can be controlled with a smart phone (see “Smart Phone Controls Low-Cost Quadrotor,” p. xx).