One of the newest offerings from Segway is the RMP 50 Omni, a trimmed down version of the RMP 400 Omni. This platform has mecanum wheels which give the base the ability to drive forward, backward, right, left, and turn independently. It is a capable mobile base in a sleek and low profile package, but this product doesn't come with all the features one would expect from a $21,000 platform.
Researchers at Georgia Tech (labmates of this author) have developed a robot that can robustly open closed doors. The target application for the robot, named El-E ("Ellie"), is assistive tasks related to healthcare in the homes of the disabled. This application demonstrates a set of behaviors that enable a mobile manipulator to reliably open a variety of doors and traverse doorways using force-sensing fingers and a laser range finder.
During the Spring 2007 semester, several friends (and labmates) took a course at Georgia Tech on mobile manipulation. This was no ordinary class... the final exam's assignment was to use a Segway base with KUKA arm to fetch a cup of coffee! There are a ton of reasons that this is interesting, from mobility, navigation, perception, manipulation, etc. However, the most impressive thing is that each group used different software to complete the task. One team used MS Robotics Studio, another used Player/Stage on Linux, and another used a functional language called OCaml on Mac.
Festo is known as a top-notch automation hardware manufacturer, but apparently their research division is capable of making very artistic, bio-inspired robots as well. This post specifically examines their robotic dirigible and submersible manta rays, both of which harbor a life-like gracefulness. I encourage you to check out the videos below; the technical specifications are provided for good measure.
Back in November of 2007, I saw a presentation by Professor Siciliano from University of Naples where he briefly mentioned (and had a video) of a very cool humanoid robot named Justin. I've seen a lot more of DLR-III lightweight arms now that DLR and Kuka are working together to push them out into industry; though I must admit that I like Justin's blue arms compared to the characteristic Kuka-orange. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of these arms is that each has a power-to-weight ratio greater than unity. This, combined with some very capable DLR-II Hands make Justin an impressive bi-manual research platform.
Kuka unveiled two prototype products at IROS 2008 in September, both ultimately targeting educational use. The first product was very sleek holonomic (omnidirectional) base employing mecanum wheels. The second product was a cute little 5 DOF (plus 1 DOF gripper) arm. While the Kuka representatives mentioned possible price-points of
$3,500 for the base and $4,000 for the arm, there was no mention of a timetable. See below for additional discussion and videos! Updated July 26th 2010: The initial price-points were (admittedly) entirely too optimistic for such a high-quality arm and base, especially since each use real-time Ethercat controllers. Kuka recently began offering an official product (named YouBot) that is available for around $24,000 -- still a great value when compared to other mobile manipulation platforms.
There has been a lot of discussion recently by Intel's CTO (Justin Rattner) about some really compelling future technologies: wireless power and programmable matter (made of catoms). Of course, the programmable matter (catoms) he is discussing are basically robots operating as a swarm. Wouldn't it be neat to see the swarms actually powered wirelessly? While Intel has thus far worked on the two technologies disjointly, work presented by myself at ICRA 2008 is addressing the intersection -- wirelessly powering a swarm of robots (publication here).