Just as people have been discovering ammunition left over from World War II for years, so too will they be discovering weaponry in Iraq long after that conflict is over. To help combat that problem, Mobile Robotics and Energid Technologies previewed a new robotics development platform at the RoboDevelopment Conference last month. Code-named Dactyl, it's designed to aid developers creating robots for both mundane household tasks and for dangerous activities in hazardous zones.
The platform, which integrates sophisticated software and an autonomous base, combines Mobile Robotics' PatrolBot and MobileEyes robot control interface with Energid Technologies' Actin arm and camera control software. "Mobile manipulation is one of the holy grails of robotics," said Neil Tardella, COO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Energid. "You can use an integrated base and arm where motion needs to be coordinated, such as for IED [improvised explosive device] discovery and removal."
Currently, Tardella said, remote engineers need to move the base and then the arm. If the arm doesn't reach the target, they have to move first the base and then the arm again, moving from one control system to the other. "With Dactyl, when you move the arm where you want, the base follows" using Mobile Robotics autonomous motion software.
The system has applicability in a multitude of security applications, added Jeanne Dietsch, CEO of Amherst, N.H.-based Mobile Robotics, including biohazard scenarios, isolated locations, and even secret locations. "There are situations where having a mobile robot with machine vision helps you," said Dietsch. "You have a remote site where it's expensive to send a person. If you have an overseas corporate office, you may not want a local security firm dealing with a problem."
But Dactyl is also capable of more mundane uses, such as helping the homebound handicapped. To use Dactyl in this scenario, a person drives the robot once around the house or space to teach it where it will work. The robot then downloads its map of the space onto the person's PC. The person can add regular pick-up and drop-off points to the map, if desired, or just click anywhere in it with MobileRobots' MobileEyes software. The robot drives autonomously to that point and sends back a notice to the PC that it's ready to pick something up. Then the Actin arm interface takes over and lets a person simply pull the tip of the arm in simulation onscreen. The real arm and robot platform, using a combination of the two companies' software, move into position as a single device, avoiding obstacles as they do so.
The Dactyl system - which may be re-named instead of its code name used - will be available in early 2009.