September 18, 2009 By Blake Harris
A new generation of European robots has been launched with their first deployment at the Euskotren railway station in the Bilbao neighborhood of Atxuri (Bilbao), designed to serve as a demonstration of their capabilities. Two robot models are now deployed there: the DustCart and the DustClean. The DustCart robot, measuring 4.75 feet high and 155 pounds in weight, has a humanoid form and is designed to interact with the user and for the collection of low demand waste. The DustClean robot, in the form of a small vehicle and measuring 96 cm high and 250 Kg in weight, cleans streets of dirt and dust. Moreover, both control the quality of air in real time.
"These robots are the solution for cleaning areas of difficult access and for the collection of rubbish... [or for] persons who have mobility problems when moving the rubbish to the communal waste containers", explained Iñaki Inzunza, director of the business unit at the Tecnalia Technological Corporation, in a company statement.
However, cleaning areas is far from all they can do. They are described by one of the developing companies, Tecnalia Technological Corporation, as "mobile, multifunctional, collaborative, autonomous and polyvalent."
The developers say that this latest generation of robots is suitable for the monitoring of large spaces (open and closed), as guides for persons in large shopping areas (indicating to them where a particular shop or product is within a shopping centre), and for accompanying elderly people or those with certain disabilities (both at home and outside), thanks to their functions of orientation, navigation, and communications with others or tele-assistance centres. They can also be used as guides in teaching spaces (museums, visitor centres), and for transport, storage and transport and goods deliveries, besides the cleaning of both open and closed surfaces which have either difficult or easy access. This last function is the one which was showcased in the public demonstration in the Bilbao rail station of Atxuri.
Leading the Locating, Navigation and Obstacle Avoidance work package within this European project, Tecnalia has also actively worked on the planning algorithms and correction of trajectories. As the director of the project, Mercedes Ferros explained, "combining infrared sensors, ultrasound and a laser scanner, the perimeter of the robot is controlled and thus its trajectory corrected if necessary".
This sensor technology of infrared sensors, ultrasound and a laser scanner was applied to detect obstacles, GPRS and ultrasound sensors for locating and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3) and carbon monoxide (CO) sensors to control the quality of air. To communicate with the robots, wireless systems were used between the sensors and the various modules (quality of air, locating, navigation, obstacle avoidance) that communicate using CAN with the supervisor PC in each robot. And for communications between the robots themselves and with the Intelligent Ambience nucleus, a WLAN network via ad-hoc mode and bluetooth connection were employed.
Development of this new generation of robots is part of the European Dustbot research project under the remit of the VI European Framework Programme in which Tecnalia is participating.
Other contributors to the Dustbot project, initiated in December 2006, include the Scuola Superiore Sant' Anna (Italy), RoboTech srl (Italy), Midra (Italy), Synapsis (Italy), Örebro University (Sweden), HW Communication Ltd (United Kingdom), the Lucerne School of Engineering and Architecture (Switzerland) and the Haute Ecole d'ingénieur et de Gestion Vaud (Switzerland).