was my first encounter with what are called autonomous robots, and the one in this story is my second. Both made me wonder where else that idea is being used, and what different technologies make them possible, in particular, the navigation and map-making abilities. The industrial environment is certainly an obvious choice.
Ann, A similar industrial application is mobile robots designed to integrate into warehouse management , scheduling and inventory control systems. The robots are designed to do sophisticated, autonomous behaviors, navigation and localization without having a robot assist or programmer involved by using natural, features-based autonomous navigation and localization to eliminate the need to install lines or beacons used with other AGV solutions. The robots learn their location in a facility based on natural features, learning the facility layout by looking at walls, parts of the factory or the ceiling in a dynamic space like a warehouse. Because they don't require beacons or lines in the floor, it reduces the upfront cost of the system. I believe the systems are used to transport finished auto tires in large warehouse facilities. Definitely lots of innovations in robotics that go beyond traditional applications.
What's been happening for several years is all kinds of apps and industries leveraging the high volumes--and therefore relatively low prices--of off-the-shelf consumer and commercial hardware and software.This has certainly operated in the military for awhile now, and has begun influencing machine vision, and to some extent now automation & control, more recently. The pace has really picked up recently with the convergence of multiple technologies at the chip and board levels--witness Kinect--and with multi-core processors.
Chuck, that video went viral in about a week after it was posted. Although I think much of that is due to the cute and/or novelty factor, I also think much of the engineering appeal will be wondering how they are synchronized in yet another form of swarming behavior.
This is interesting TJ, the ethics question came to me also, although I was thinking more during war time. I think we have all seen videos of enemy soldiers trying to surrender to drones - before they get blown up.
The influx of robots in war raises a unique moral question about surrendering to a mechanical entity that a human is monitoring.
I've been hearing a lot about the Kinect motion system in simulation and other types of 3D apps as well. It seems like another one of those instances where consumer technology is influencing the development of commercial/business applications, which is interesting.
Thanks, Alex. Yes, I was intrigued to discover that robots are all over the place: they're not just for industry anymore, although that's their largest area of concentration. They are in medicine and healthcare, outer space, used by the military in the air and on the ground, and are learning to do all kinds of new things like navigate autonomously in a novel environment, fly in formation in swarms, build structures and even play in concert:
What I'm getting from your recent spate of apps stories, Ann, is that robotics apps are extending their arms, so to speak, well beyond the straight industrial arena in which I already assumed they were in heavy use. But there seem to be numerous medical, mil, and other apps of which I'd been unaware. Very interesting.
TJ, I agree with you about the unexpected uses of technology innovations. In the case of the Kinect camera/sensor system for this robot app, note that the team also implemented their approach with the Kinect system in a robotic wheelchair and a portable sensor suit, in addition to the PR2 platform.
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