Robobusiness 2008

April 22, 2008
Technology Editor Bill Wong paid a visit to the robotics gala Robobusiness, held in Pittsburgh, PA, from April 8-9. Read up on his impressions and some of his favorites from the exhibition.

Robobusiness was about the same size as last year when it came to vendors on the floor (Fig. 1) although the traffic seems to be higher. The types of tire kickers are definitely changing as is the people and robots roving the floor (Fig. 2). This is a robot show after all. One of the differences on the robot side is the increase in autonomous robots wandering around and not bumping into people. On the human side, there was much more talk about how many units someone could deliver than just what they could do.

Aethon’s Tug (Fig. 3) is representative of the success that some vendors are having. The Tug is the small robot that does the dirty work. It is typically found pulling a cart around hospitals doing everything from delivering drugs to picking up dirty dishes and dropping off reports. Likewise, installations consist of multiple identical units instead of individual, customized platforms.

Of course, there were plenty of regulars at the show like Microsoft and iRobot. The iRobot Loog (Fig. 4) was a fun and useful item being demonstrated. The $99 Loog is designed to clean the eaves. That’s one nasty job. The Loog carrier has a belt so you can strap it on, climb up a ladder with two hands and then set it to work. The spinning tool at the head end spins out leaves and debris while dual tracks push it forward. Simple, cheap, and rugged. It looks like a winner.

There were plenty of other iRobot robots running around including half a dozen variations on the iCreate (Fig. 5), which seemed to be one of the smaller platforms running around.

Microsoft announced the release of their Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008. This is the second major release of the Robotics Studio. It was in use by or supported by a number of vendors on the floor and coverage of the development tool in the sessions was standing room only.

There were a few surprises at the show as well. Advanced Scientific Concepts (Fig. 6) was presenting their new range-finder technology. The visual system employs a special 128 by 128 imager and a laser. The latter kicks out a short 5 ns pulse of light. The reflected light is captured by the imager but this is no simple CCD camera. Each cell collects a sequence of readings separated by 1 ns time slots. The multiple, time synched frames are then processed delivering a 3D imaged based on the depth information extracted from the frames. The demo was extremely impressive.

The keynote and sessions were upbeat but very practical and realistic. Forget the blue sky, wishful thinking. These presentations were based on successes and analysis of what does and does not work. More on this and other things from Robobusiness once I return including reviews of some smaller robot platforms.



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