Bosch incorporates MEMS for lower-cost personal robots

September 30, 2011 – PRNewswire — Bosch Research and Technology Center (RTC) is developing "Alan," a personal robot, as part of the Personal Robot 2 (PR2) Beta Program by Willow Garage Inc. The goal is an affordable, capable, and safe robot to serve residential users in chores, such as folding laundry, delivered to the marketplace in the next 5-10 years. Personal robotics could be worth $15 billion within the next decade.

The PR2 program has advanced sensor technology, noted Peter Marks, chairman, president, and CEO of Robert Bosch LLC and member of the Board of Management.

Halfway through the two-year program, Bosch has contributed in shared autonomy (human assistance), remote experimentation, affordable sensing (devices that process data) and hackathons (exploring new applications). In the PR2 Remote Lab, users have been developing, testing, and comparing robot algorithms from all over the world.

Bosch identified and integrated suitable sensor technologies, such as gyros, force sensors and air pressure sensors in the PR2 to enable new applications and lower production costs. Bosch pulled from its experience in automotive sensors for the project, as well as cost-efficient consumer-grade sensors from Bosch Sensortec. Providing algorithms with a focus on automatic calibration, Bosch developed the required drivers to integrate its sensors into ROS (Robot Operating System), a free, open-source system that provides resources such as hardware abstraction, visualizers, message-passing and package management. In addition to the software integration, Bosch supports the PR2 community by providing sensors free of charge.

A significant portion of robotic production costs go into the development of manipulators — commonly known as the robot’s arms, wrists and body. To reduce costs without sacrificing performance, Bosch explored the use of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors in place of more expensive encoders. MEMS allow the PR2 to navigate human environments better, grasp and manipulare objects, and perform other tasks with less-expensive hardware.

Another project developed an intuitive interface for remote teleoperators to control robots engaged in complex tasts. This shared autonomy mitigates reliability concerns and increases efficiency, Bosch reports. It reduces time and computational needs solving loops in planning, control and perception.

In collaboration with Brown University, Bosch developed an infrastructure that allows the PR2 robot to be controlled over the internet, providing a browser-based infrastructure that includes sensor feedback, 3D models, and camera streams, allowing users to see the results of their code, interact with the PR2 from afar, and ultimately, improve the robot.

To evaluate potential applications for the PR2, Bosch researchers hosted one-week project sprints called “hackathons.” During these collaborative events, the PR2 demonstrated its ability to accomplish complex tasks, such as carving wooden nameplates using Bosch’s Dremel power tool, drawing on a white board, and delivering mail autonomously.

In a recent hackathon, an autonomous beverage-serving application was debuted using the PR2 and a low-cost TurtleBot personal robot. Working with Brown University; University of California, Berkeley; and the Technische Universität, Munich, Germany; Bosch created a web interface in which the PR2 uses precise manipulation functions to retrieve a beverage from the refrigerator, while the TurtleBot delivers the beverage to the requester. Developments that employ multiple robots further enable affordability and proficiency. More expensive robots with manipulation functions can be used for more difficult tasks, while less expensive robots can be used for transport and less complex activity.

In North America, The Bosch Group manufactures and markets automotive original equipment and aftermarket products, industrial drives and control technology, power tools, security and communication systems, packaging technology, thermotechnology, household appliances, solar energy, healthcare telemedicine and software innovations. For more information, visit www.boschusa.com, or visit the company’s global site at www.bosch.com.

Watch a video of Alan:

 

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