Most of the noteworthy robots in the service category
are in military applications, especially in these days of war in
the Middle East. Typical military tasks call for a mobile robot
with some sort of arm or gripper, and television feedback to
a remote operator. Long before iRobot came on the scene
with their Packbots, the Germans used wire-controlled ‘tanks’
that were actually bombs with tracks to destroy enemy tanks
and vehicles. This gas engine powered tank proved to be
ineffective, but unique nonetheless, as its control cable could
be easily cut or shot through. Figure 3 shows the Goliath light
charge carrier that could carry up to a 100 KG explosive charge.
We usually think of robot arms used in industrial
applications within factories. Figure 4 shows a unique, but
rapidly-growing use of robots: in farming, agriculture, and, in
this case, sorting and packaging produce. This plant in Murcia,
Spain uses 69 Fanuc robots to process over 400,000 heads
of lettuce a day — greatly increasing production over the
previous manual methods. An outside robot integrator
company studied the needs and developed a vision system
with a series of robots. The process starts where a robot
empties the trays of picked lettuce heads into a conveyor
where other robots position each head and spread them
evenly so they enter the cutting station to have the root part
removed. The vision system not only reads their position, but
their size so heads that are too large or too small are rejected.
The robot again inspects the heads under another camera
and the lettuce is packed in trays for shipment. Personnel
have been reduced by 80%, and accuracy and cleanliness
has increased with this unique robotic application in place.
Other Service Robot Applications
Other agricultural applications include automated
pickers and reapers, combines, animal feeders, crop care,
and pest control.
Other military uses include autonomous and remote-controlled weapons platforms, intelligent bombs and
torpedoes, autonomous and R/C flying vehicles,
autonomous and R/C ground surveillance vehicles,
intelligent gun platforms, and weapons handling systems.
Cleaning uses include home vacuums (Roomba style),
window cleaning, hard floor cleaning, swimming pool
sweeping, gutter cleaning, grass cutting, leaf collecting,
and also clean room maintenance.
Inspection robots can be used to visually inspect
pipelines, sewers, human-inaccessible areas in buildings,
rubble from disasters, and other remote sites such as damaged
undersea oil wells like we’re experiencing in the Gulf.
Oceanographic ROVs are used to explore extreme
depths, retrieve plant, animal, water and geological
samples, and photograph remote sites.
Security uses include both civilian (police and home)
and military surveillance. Civilian and government agencies
use both surface and aerial robots to observe border areas,
with police agencies using robots for bomb verification and
disposal, suspect observations, and in disaster operations.
Medical robotics applications can be as small as
FIGURE 4. Lettuce sorting robots in Spain.
complete robots that enter the body to retrieve tissue
samples or dispense medications, or as complex as the da
Vinci HD surgical system robot made by Intuitive Surgical
and shown in Figure 5. This system allows surgeons to
perform intricate and minimally-invasive operations by
remote control. The surgeon is sitting at the console to the
left and can perform delicate laparoscopic surgeries with
full HD vision and multiple surgical tools. Patients recover
much faster and there is little blood loss. Doctors in a
hospital a continent away can actually operate on an
injured soldier in a hospital tent next to a battle area — all
by remote control. The newest da Vinci system has four
arms with seven degrees of freedom.
Personal Robot Applications
This category interests most robot experimenters as it
entails robots within the home and is a sub-category of
service robots. The previously mentioned iRobot Roomba has
been very popular with robot enthusiasts, as well as typical
home owners, and has sold millions around the world.
FIGURE 5. da Vinci surgical robot.
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