However, it is the more versatile
home-built mobile platforms with
various appendages and sensors
that pique our interests. iRobot
realized this when they saw that
many perfectly good Roombas
were being hacked to bits. So,
they came out with their Create
platform shown in Figure 6. The
Create platform features 32 built-in sensors, a cargo bay showing
the optional green Atmel
ATMega 168 microcontroller
command module installed, and
a 25-pin expansion port for additional hardware.
I have found the Create to be an excellent
experimenter’s platform. It comes ready-made, rather than
as a kit. The Parallax BASIC Stamp Boe-Bot is another
popular robotics platform, as are the VEX and LEGO NTX
kit series. Factory implementations of industrial robots may
be fine for the manufacturing engineer, but robot hobbyists
want their creations close and personal in their homes.
Aside from what’s currently available on the market and
events such as maze solving, RoboMegellan, MicroMouse, line
following, Sumo, and combat robots, most experimenters
want a basic home robot that can serve them in some way.
Fetching items seems to be at the top of the list, as in “Bring
me a Pepsi or Coors Light.” A more serious application may
be a robot to assist the elderly in independent living — a
category that has been very close to my heart for a number
of years. Household tasks such as entertaining guests, watering
plants, household security and
monitoring, home systems
management, and basic house
cleaning, are all desirable.
Sometimes, a robot may be desired
as a companion, just like the old
Sony Aibo or Paro the seal.
I’ve just briefly touched on
some of the many hundreds of
applications that robots can
perform. It is the versatility of these machines that make them
so appealing to experimenters and hobbyists. In homes, factories,
on battlefields, in space, roving on the surface of planets,
operating on patients, undersea, or in the air, robots are amazing
machines. Television programs (such as MythBusters) and science
shows have introduced viewers to unique mechanical
solutions that solve or prove (or disprove) varied concepts or
problems bringing more awareness to robotic technology.
I was recently invited to Willow Garage in Menlo Park,
CA to give a talk on the use of robots to assist the elderly
in independent living and to view their facility and the
amazing PR2 robot we’ve discussed in previous columns.
Figure 7 shows the robot projecting a pattern on the wall
in order to locate and identify a power outlet for recharging. Founded by Scott Hassan (best known for his
eGroups start-up) and run by President and CEO, Steve
Cousins (who previously was a manager at Xerox’s PARC),
the company’s recently offered 11 PR2 robots to qualified
researchers at some of the world’s top institutions and
companies to encourage robot-specific applications.
The PR2 is not just your everyday robot but a highly
sophisticated and capable machine. The robot has unlimited
application possibilities. As Steve says: “Willow Garage is
organized to encourage spin-out companies. We intend for
spin-outs to participate in the industry, enabled by projects
developed at Willow Garage. These spin-out projects should
have broad applications that deliver significant
contributions to the robotics community and beyond.”
Scott and Steve’s generous attitude towards the robot
community is also shown in their development of ROS, their
software platform which stands for Robot Operating System
(much like a computer operating system). The software is
completely open source and free for others to use.
FIGURE 6. iRobot Create experimenter’s platform.
I’ve discussed just a few of the many categories and
applications for robots, and robot experimenters will certainly
be coming up with many more in the future. It is this versatility
that makes our machines and our hobby so interesting. SV
FIGURE 7. Willow
Garage’s PR2 searching
for a power outlet.
Tom Carroll can be reached at TWCarroll@aol.com.
80 SERVO 08.2010