Players large and small in the robotics industry descended on Boston this week for the the two-day RoboBusiness conference. They brought with them, of course, their spiffiest gadgetry to put on display. Here's a look at some of the things we spotted on the expo floor.
This is the Robotic Mobility Platform from Segway, best-known for its iconic two-wheeled Human Transporter. The Segway RMP, which uses the same components, features an electric motor that runs at 2 horsepower for sustained use and can peak at 4 to 5 horsepower. It can range up to 15 miles and carry a 400-pound payload. The RMP 400 here is outfitted with a spray nozzle for firefighting duty.
The Marcbot IV-M, from Applied Geo Technologies, started out more or less as a remote-controlled car. It's built in large part from COTS components--that is, commercial off-the-shelf goods--including the servos, lights, antenna, and even the RC car itself. Getting robotics companies to use standardized and COTS parts will be important in keeping costs down.
Hollywood creations aside, most robots these days don't operate autonomously--there's generally a human behind the curtain. Set up here in the AGT booth are some operator control units, looking pretty well ruggedized (as is the Marcbot).
Robotics competitions have become a staple of the educational arena. The FIRST organization, founded by inventor Dean Kamen, the man behind the Segway and the DEKA prosthetic arm, runs a series of such competitions every year, for age groups ranging from high school down to 6- to 9-year-olds. The robot pictured here, which includes Lego Mindstorms components, is typical of a high school project.
In 2007, Worcester Polytechnic University became the first university in the U.S. to offer an undergraduate degree in robotics engineering. The Massachusetts school showed off a variety of student constructions that were built to accomplish specific feats--find a candle and blow it out; sort items by weight; and even do push-ups.
In the robot pictured here, infrared sensors (on the green rectangle at top right) swivel back and forth and communicate with a host computer to plot out a real-time route.
Gears Educational Systems builds a Surface Mobility Platform that schools can use as the basis for robot projects. The variation in the foreground features a 50-watt engine and four-wheel drive. Behind it, at top right, is the Gears-HMC Heavy Metal Chassis
Gears-Ed also showed what it can do with someone else's hardware. The round white object is the iRobot Create platform, akin to the Roomba, using a Gears-Ed payload adapter for the Create and a pneumatic training kit.
The MAARS (modular advanced armed robotic system) family of robots is from Foster-Miller, a unit of British defense contractor Qinetiq. Yes, the second A in MAARS is for "armed," and in that mode the device would be equipped with a M240B medium machine gun. The modular design, however, does allow the weapon to be swapped out for a manipulator arm that could be used in neutralizing roadside bombs. The arm currently can lift about 80 pounds, and Foster-Miller aims to raise that to 120 pounds.
Also from Foster-Miller is the Talon, which has been used in places like Iraq for bomb disposal missions. In addition to the manipulator arm, it can carry up to four color cameras, including night vision, thermal, and zoom options. The company also has shown off a weaponized version.
There's been a lot written in recent months about UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the Predator. Get ready to start hearing more about UGVs, or unmanned ground vehicles. Pictured here is the SUGV (the S is for "small"), built by iRobot. It was developed in conjunction with the U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems program, and is one of the FCS technologies that's most likely to succeed.
The gent in the background here is controlling the robotic arm in the foreground, picking up a water bottle to show the device's sensitivity and dexterity. The WAM Arm is from Barrett Technology, and among its applications, hospitals have been using it for knee surgery--the robotic hand holds a cutting tool.
The robotic arm here is being controlled from the Acceleglove worn on the demonstrator's right hand. Made by Anthrotronix, the Acceleglove is due to become available May 22 priced at $499. The company says that applications for the haptic glove could include robotic control, gaming control, or even learning sign language.
The robot here is the MK-705 from Kumotek of Richardson, Texas. Like other robots at the show, it was built from off-the-shelf components and is customizable. It's in the booth for "Robot City Osaka"--the Japanese city is giving over a swath of itself for redevelopment as the world's first "robo-quitous" urban environment.