Roomba with dustpan style grasper

Remember El-E, the service robot that would retrieve things that you spotted with a laser? The creators of El-E are doing research into other methods of making assistance robots. Their latest contraption is an iRobot Create, basically a  Roomba, with a custom grasping hand. Instead of complex multi DOF assemblies, they have made something that works on the same principle as a dustpan. It has a thin wedge and a sweeping arm that loads items onto it. As you can see in the video, it is quite effective.

[thanks Travis]

Gaming with Roombas


Yesterday we looked at the Pac-Man Roomba casemod. In the video, creator [Ron Tajima] expressed interest in seeing Roombas participate in real life games. So we did some digging around and found some used in an interesting augmented reality game. From Brown University, these modified Roomba Create units play various games, like tag, with an underlying goal of developing smarter robots.

The setup consists of a Java powered client/server arrangement. The game server coordinates the Small Universal Robot Vehicles (SmURVs) and builds a database of events for future use. Players can also control the robots through a Java telepresence client.

The units themselves are made up of the iRobot Create with a Mini-ITX computer strapped to the top. They run Linux and communicate over WiFi with the server and players. They also have an IR emitter used in the games to “shoot” other units.

Gameplay has the server acting as the referee and humans only acting as instructors. The humans come into play when the robots are unable to respond based on their existing database of decision making policies. Through the client, players are able to see exactly what the robot sees with the addition of 3D overlays. Future plans for the game include removing the camera view and replacing with nothing but these overlays. One of the final goals of the project was to create a 24/7/365 gaming experience similar to what is found in MMOs and Xbox Live applications today.

Swarm robotics


Uber-geek [James McLurkin] was in Austin recently demoing his robot swarm. He’s on tour with EDA Tech Forum. [McLurkin] has multiple degrees from the MIT AI lab and worked at iRobot for a couple of years. Lately, he has been working on distributed robot computing: robot swarms.

[McLurkin] was an entertaining speaker and had an interesting view of robotics. He is optimistic that robot parts will become more modular, so it will be easier to build them, and more importantly, faster to design them.

Some quotes:

  • “There’s more sensors in a cockroach’s butt than any robot”
  • “12 engineer years to design, 45 minutes to build”
  • “If it can break your ankle, it’s a real [rc] car.”

[Read more...]

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