OmniRob: Kuka Robotics' Foray into Omnidirectional Mobile Manipulation Platforms

OmniRob Concept: Kuka Robotics Omnidirectional Platform for Mobile Manipulation

While perusing through Kuka's 2008 Annual Report, it became evident that the robotics giant is making a serious foray into mobile manipulation with its OmniRob concept robot (photos and videos below).  This new robot sports a omnidirectional mobile platform based on mecanum wheels, a Kuka lightweight arm, and what appear to be dual SICK LMS100 laser range finders to provide 360° lidar coverage.  Between Kuka's "toy" educational platform (covered by Hizook in October) and this more advanced offering, it is clear that Kuka is highly invested / interested in the future of mobile manipulation.  With Kuka's classic expertise in robot arms, combined with competence in omnidirectional systems via their OmniMove industrial application line, Kuka will surely be a significant force in the exciting field of mobile manipulation.

First, let's take a look at some quality pictures of this new "OmniRob" system.

OmniRob: Kuka Robotics Omnidirectional Platform for Mobile Manipulation  OmniRob: Kuka Robotics Omnidirectional Platform for Mobile Manipulation

For those unfamiliar with the lightweight arm, the above images do not provide much in terms of scale reference.  The picture below shows OmniRob next to a human.

OmniRob: Kuka Robotics Omnidirectional Platform for Mobile Manipulation

The things that strike me most about the system are its aesthetic cover and its relatively large footprint -- though they do not give a width, it seems like the robot may have difficulty traversing household doorways.  Perhaps this is not so much of an issue, as Kuka explains it as "a self-navigating, remote-controlled mobile lightweight robot (omniRob), which can be used by itself or together with humans in workshops or industrial plants to transport products".

To prove that this is more than just a "pose for investors", Kuka displayed the robot at the Automatica trade show last year.  Here is a video:

With only the SICK LMS100's (to provide 360° lidar coverage), one would assume that the robot in the video was controlled under teleoperation (or scripted).  I'd be curious to see Kuka's design of a full sensor suite.

As I mentioned, Hizook covered the OmniRob's smaller, educational cousin last October when it was shown at IROS 2008 as two independent components (see below, where the base is on the right and the arm on the left).  I certainly think there is room in the market for both the smaller educational mobile manipulator and the larger (and more expensive!) OmniRob system.

Kuka Omnidirectional Robot Base for Education   Kuka Arm for Education

Of course Kuka certainly isn't lacking in expertise regarding robot arms, but they also has some pretty solid omnidirectional mobile platforms -- it has developed a number of products under its OmniMove line (shown below left and middle) that "can be used to handle up to 60 tons in a very small space, with a range of motion covering all spatial axes".  Of course, Kuka is not the only purveyor of omnidirectional systems for industrial applications -- the Airtrax products (forklift shown below right) are also pretty well established.  However, the combination of expertise in both mobility and manipulation puts them in a rather unique position to capitalize on mobile manipulation opportunities.

Kuka OmniMove Omnidirectional Lifter  Kuka OmniMove Omnidirectional Lifter  Airtrax Omnidirectional Forklift