21st Century Robotics (Scientific American Special Online by Scientific American

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Extra resources for 21st Century Robotics (Scientific American Special Online Issue No. 14)

Sample text

So the engineers at iRobot attached video and infrared cameras to the prototype Packbots and rushed them to New York. At the Somerville office I watched an engineer fasten two flashlights and a camera to a Packbot that would soon be taken to the World Trade Center site. Although the Packbots were too large to burrow into the wreckage, the iRobot engineers used one machine to search a parking garage. Smaller telepresence robots called the MicroTrac and the MicroVGTV— machines made by Inuktun, a Canadian company that sells robots for inspecting pipes and ducts— were able to crawl through the holes in the rubble.

If you throw in a spare battery charger and assorted extras, the total price can easily run over $2,000. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Aibo’s software is that the robot is imbued with canine instincts. We got our first look at Aibo’s mercurial character just seconds after George took the dog out of the box and turned it on. ) In response to George’s enthusiastic petting, the mechanized mongrel nipped one of his fingers. The bite didn’t hurt— Aibo has no teeth, just a motorized plastic jaw— but just the same, George gave the junkyard robot a firm rap on the top of the head.

It didn’t damage or topple anything, and it did remarkably well at extricating itself from power and phone cords, either by shifting direction or temporarily shutting off the brush. The edge detector—downward-pointing infrared sensors that watch for dropoffs—worked perfectly. Much as I tried, I couldn’t entice Roomba to fall down a flight of stairs. I even put it on a table and let it clear off the crumbs. Roomba slurped up most of the filth, but it didn’t replace the need for manual vacuuming or sweeping, and iRobot is wise not to claim that it does.

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