Monday, January 25, 2010

Do You Want a "Free" PR2 Domestic Robot?

You read it correctly, so what is the catch you may ask? That there are only 10 Willow Garage PR2 domestic robots to give away for free to "research institutes". Here is their exact words:

"The PR2 Beta Program will make available approximately ten PR2 Beta robots at no cost. "

"We invite research institutions to respond to our Call for Proposals, describing the open source and scientific contributions that they can make with a PR2. The Call for Proposals contains additional details on how we will select the top proposals and distribute PR2s."

The Willow Garage PR2 is a very interesting and advanced semi-humanoid domestic robot that can expand the domestic robotics industry greatly! Willow Garage is a team of robotics experts (meet them here) who want to lay the groundwork for domestic robots to be the next paradigm shifting personal productivity tools for mankind. With the help of open source and open platform adoptions models they can help make this push and move forward this technology to where it needs to be. This domestic robot merges into single project the following basic robotics research areas:

  • Grasping/Manipulation
  • Human-Robot Interaction
  • Motion Planning
  • Robot Perception
  • Task Planning
This makes PR2 a wet dream for domestic robotics researchers!

The PR2 comes with the following jaw dropping specs:

Two On Board Servers:
Processors: Two Quad-Core i7 Xeon Processors (8 cores)
Memory: 24 GB
Hard Drive (Externally Removable): 1.5 TB
Hard Drive (Internal): 500 GB

Base Sensor:
Hokuyo UTM-30LX Laser Scanner

Above Shoulders Sensors:
Tilting Hokuyo UTM-30LX Laser Scanner
Microstrain 3DM-GX2 IMU

Head Sensors:
5-Megapixel Global Shutter Color Gigabit Ethernet Camera
Wide-Angle Global Shutter Color Stereo Ethernet Camera
Narrow-Angle Global Shutter Monochrome Stereo Ethernet Camera
LED Texture Projector Triggered with Narrow-Angle Stereo Camera

Forearm Sensor:
Global Shutter Ethernet Camera

Gripper Sensors:
Three-Axis Accelerometer
Fingertip Pressure Sensor Arrays
Calibration LED

Gigabit Ethernet Network for Sensor and Inter-Computer Communication
EtherCAT Network for Real time Motion Control and Camera Trigger Sync

Dual-Radio WiFi for Network Bonding
Dedicated Access Point for Direct Access to Robot Network

Power System:
1.3 kWh Battery System for 2-hour Robot Run time
On board Chargers

Casters: 4 Steered and Driven
Base Width: 668 mm
Speed: 1 m/s

Telescoping Spine
Center of Shoulder Height: Max 1110 mm
Center of Shoulder Height: Min 775 mm

Pan Tilt Head
Pan: +/- 175°
Tilt: -85° +30°

Arm DOFs
Arm: 4
Wrist: 3
Gripper: 1

The other nice thing about this robot is that the robot also has its very own open source OS called ROS v1.0. The ROS, by itself, will not make the robot do all the cool tricks, start talking to you or spring out its own A.I. but with the community of PR2 fanatic researchers it can grow to be just that and then some.

Make sure you write down on your calendar the following dates if you work at a research institute or have a group that does research and are interested on making your domestic robot idea become reality:

  • Intent To Respond Due : February 1, 2010
  • Final Proposal Due: March 1, 2010
You only have a week to send out your "Intent To Respond" and little over month to get your proposals out the door! What are you waiting for?! You will be getting a free domestic robot!!!

To help motivate you and your team, I added some videos of the PR2 robot mile stones. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Neato XV-11: The Future of Domestic Cleaning Robots?

As I write this, I am listening to "Blade Runner Blues" by Vangelis. Yes, so relaxing and futuristic that it makes my internal wiring tingle. With Blade Runner fresh in my mind, I just can not help to compare the design of the Neato Robotics XV-11 with similar ones used in the great 1982 Sci-Fi cult film. It has the retro-futuristic look that only a geek like me or you may appreciate. The color, the lines, can not point it out but in general you capture that feel. Either way, Neato Robotics is a very new start up domestic robotics company from Mountain View, California which fairly recently have introduced their XV-11 domestic floor cleaning robot. What does the XV-11 bring to the table besides the retro-future design to clean up your floors? We already have the Roomba, a swarm of Roomba "clones" and a few interesting designs (Karcher, Electrolux, Samsung, etc.) so what makes this new guy different? It still sweeps your floors (hard and carpeted) and you still have to manually dump out the collected dirt, nothing special there. What sets this domestic floor cleaning robot aside is the use of SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) technology to map out the cleaning area. Currently there are no other domestic floor cleaning robots that use this method to map out rooms. Yes, we aware of Samsung's method and the primitive method used by Electrolux but at the moment nothing like this has appeared until now. SLAM has the edge over the others because it can build maps in an unknown environment, as your home, while keeping track of their current location. In this manner, the robot is able to move around the home effectively while cleaning it efficiently. No more "blind bat" bumping, hitting of delicate furniture and/or keeping you from sleeping!

The XV-11 uses lasers in their use of SLAM and it appears to have a powerful vac motor to clean floors. It also has a scheduler and the dirt bin/filter combo seems to be easy to remove and clean. The XV-11 is able to automatically get back to base to recharge its batteries and it is able to avoid hitting furniture with the use of SLAM technology. Neato Robotics showcased the XV-11 at CES 2010 and should be available soon at a price of US $399 which places it in direct competition with iRobot and Samsung. Now let me see on how to get one for a full review! Enjoy the short video.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Are There Formica Inside Your Home?

A group of electronic engineering students (Spanton, English, Johnson, Sun and Gough), from University of South Hampton, have come up with a great idea to create an open source swarm robotics platform called Formica ("ants" in Latin). What is so great about swarm robots you may ask? Imagine an army of Formica swarm robots in your home that is able to get into every corner an clean it each day when you go to sleep, better than Roomba and quieter than a mouse it can do the job in a fraction of the time by working as a team. How about having them outside the house to act as perimeter watch "dogs", umm I mean "ants". Release some amphibious versions into your pipes or gutters to give it a routine and much needed cleaning. The list can go on but at the moment these tiny friends can help you with research projects with swarm artificial intelligence or anything else you have in mind.

Currently they cost about US$24 each but can be had much cheaper if ordered in volumes. They are fairly simplistic, light and are able to auto charge easily. Here is a list of the hardware involved into each current version of the Formica swarm robot:

  • Drive: Two coreless DC motors, 4mm diameter, as used in mobile phone vibrators. Direct drive via 3.5mm neoprene wheels friction-fit on shafts. Differential steering.
  • Battery: 320mAh lithium polymer. This is sufficient for 1.5 to 2 hours of continuous, autonomous movement.
  • On board charge regulator and copper terminals/ground skis enable robots to self-charge from a simple "bay".
  • Micro controller: MSP430F2254; 16kB of flash program memory, 512 bytes of RAM.
  • Communications: Three IR LED/Photo diode photo transistors with multi-frequency FSK modem scheme. Range >50mm, variable with lighting conditions.
  • Sensors: down-looking IR photo reflective sensor measures floor reflectivity. May be used for "food" detection of reflective objects. IR communication receiver photo transistors double as light sensors, enabling light-seeking behavior, etc.
  • Display: Bi-colour LED enables red/green/yellow behavioral "mood" status output.

The hardware (schematics, PCB layouts, etc.) and software (firmware, code, etc.) design is available for all to download and use. So make sure not to step on these little friends the next time you see them moving around your floor! Here is a short video to see them in action. Enjoy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Domestic Robots for 2010

2009 has come and gone now in a blink of a human eye. It was not a very good year for domestic robots since most part of 2009 was left empty of anything new. Not until the last quarter of 2009 did we notice much push from our friends in Korea by providing the Samsung "Tango" and its variations. Also an almost last minute surprise from Neato with their interesting XV-11. iRobot has remained under covers after canceling the ConnectR project and everything else was left to entertainment robots or research projects. 2010 is here and CES 2010 - Las Vegas is just a couple of days away. We are aware that the global economy is not at its best but this is when great technological revolutions start and evolve to bigger things. 2010 will be the year it makes or breaks known domestic robot companies and can bring unknown ones up to the world stage. As always, DomesRO will provide you with the latest information on domestic robots and related industries. Enjoy the ride!