Home Site

    Page 38
16.4 Table of Contents Bottom of Page Site Map

It is Time for Utilitarian,
Cost Effective Service Robots:

The Enabling Confluence of Technologies

By R. Martin Spencer
The first successful microcomputer in the early '80's
immediately fueled the introduction of several personal robot offerings. Heathkit, in introducing the small Hero mobile robot, sold several thousand in just a few years. Nolan Bushnell of Atari fame and fortune founded Androbot, which produced the Topo and Bobo personal robots. RB Systems produced a Hero-like robot called the RB5X. In the mid '80's Arctec Systems (see www.robotswanted.com/robotgallery/arctec for a technical description) produced perhaps the highest level of autonomy robot, the Gemini. While few Gemini's were sold due to it's $8,000 to $12,000 price tag, it could map an entire home, path plan from room to room, and follow that path while avoiding previously unknown, or unmapped obstacles. This level of autonomy is essentially the same as Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU's - www.cmu.edu/home/news/nursebot.html) nurse-bot prototype, Florence ("Flo"), developed over the last few years. Applied Systems Intelligence, Inc. (www.asinc.com) has been the lead in developing the high level of autonomy software necessary for Boeing's new robot aircraft, the X-45. GeckoSystems (www.GeckoSystems.com) has achieved similar levels of automatic self-navigation, albeit with lower power consumption and cost for their Personal Computer Robots (PCR's).
At first glance it seems little has changed in mobile
robots over the past fifteen years. In many ways, this is true. However, we will look at the technological requirements to achieve a high level of autonomy in mobile robots in general and personal robots specifically.
The challenge of creating a robot is more software than
hardware. As the environment for the robot's operation becomes increasingly dynamic, the software to manage
the near real-time flood of information becomes even more complex and requires significant computational resources. For example, the Gemini had five Apple computer CPU's on board primarily running tens of thousands of lines of assembly language. CMU's Flo has two Pentium class CPU's on board with additional computational power off board. The hardware requirements for Applied Systems "cognitive engine." are not available. These mobile robots, and most of the others currently on the market (excluding the X-45, which has not published its characteristics), only have continuous activity for one to two hours before requiring a full recharge. Often the robot inactivity cycle or recharge time is more than double that of its useful cycle. This also holds for Sony's offerings such as the Aibo, Activmedia's AmigoBot, iRobot's iRobot, Probotics' Cye, and Friendly Machines' RoboMow. Even Eureka's and Husqvarna's dedicated vacuuming robots only have one to two hours of battery life before needing four to six hours of recharging. The GeckoSystems' CareBot PCR, an exception to this trend, has thirty to thirty-five hours of usage with a battery recharge time of four to eight hours.
All of the aforementioned robots, with the exception of
the Cye and CareBot, have "brains on board" (the computer that controls the robot resides on the robot). This is an important concept since the level and type of autonomy exhibited by a mobile robot is directly proportional to its computational power. In general, the more computer power available for a given robotic platform, the higher the possible autonomy level.
Today's ubiquitous PC is truly astonishing in its ability
to offer a 1980-mainframe level of computing power at consumer electronic prices. Our microcomputer industry has exceeded Moore's Law predictions, the doubling of computer power every eighteen months, for nearly fifteen years and in spite of

To Page 37

16.4 Table of Contents
Top of Page

To Page 39

16.4 2002

PC AI Magazine - PO Box 30130 Phoenix, AZ 85046 - Voice: 602.971.1869 Fax: 602.971.2321
e-mail: info@pcai.com - Comments? webmaster@pcai.com