A mobile robot is an automatic machine that is capable of moving in many environments and is the focus of research in many major universities. These robots are also used in the military, in security, household environments, and in business industries. They are classified by the type of environment that they are built to work in or by the way the move. Classifications include Unmanned Arial Vehicles or UAVs, autonomous underwater vehicles or AUVs, wheeled robots, and legged robots.
Mobile robots can be controlled in many ways, including manual teleoperation, which is used to keep operators safe. This method is accomplished by the user directing the robot with a control device or joystick that is wireless, connected to the robot itself, or connected by a computer. iRobot‘s PackBot, Foster-Miller’s Talon, and KumoTek’s MK-705 Roosterbot are just a few examples of robots that can be remotely controlled. Some robots are known as guarded tele-op robots. These can be operated manually with a control device but are capable of detecting and avoiding obstacles on their own. Some are known as autonomous robots, which operate on their own and will not avoid obstacles, like walls, if detected. Sliding autonomy is a system used in robots like the HelpMate hospital robot, which is able to be switched between manual, autonomous, and guarded manual modes.
Some autonomous robots follow a pre-made path by using a simple sensory system. These are known as line-following robots and they operate by sensing a line drawn on a surface or a wire, but these are unable to avoid or move around obstacles. Companies that still manufacture these robots include Transbotics and HK Systems. Other autonomous robots have some prior knowledge about their destination or location and are able to calculate their location using a system of sensors, GPS, lasers, Stereopsis, and cameras. These robots are capable of gathering information about an environment, like radiation levels in a hospital.
The first mobile robots appeared during World War II and were used for directing flying bombs, V1 and V2 bombs, and for radar control and guiding systems. By 1980, the public took interest in robotics and many household robots were developed to be used for education and other purposes, like the RB5X. In the early 1980’s, Ernst Dickmanns and his team developed the first robotic cars, which could reach speed of up to fifty-five miles per hour. Between 1996 and 1997, NASA sent the Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner to explore the surface of Mars. This robot was manually controlled from earth, but was also capable of guarded autonomous operation. Advancement in robotics was demonstrated in 2010, when the Multi Autonomous Ground-robotic International Challenge launched teams of autonomous robots to map large urban areas, avoid obstacles, and track humans.
Image Caption: A spying robot is an example of a mobile robot capable of movement in a given environment. Credit: Wikipedia