August 24, 2012
iRobot Shows Off Inflatable Robots
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Inflatable robots can offer a variety of functions, but specifically are interesting because of their decreased weight and cheaper parts used.
The military already utilizes the iRobot PackBot to deal with improvised explosive devices and check for potentially dangerous areas.
The manipulator arm seen on the current iRobot PackBot weighs over 15 pounds, but the company's new AIRarm weighs just under half a pound, and can lift as much as five pounds.
Inflatable robots can also fit into tighter, more cramped spaces than robots like the PackBot, opening up plenty more storage space for backpacks.
Another benefit to an inflatable robot rather than a standard one is its ability to have a lighter touch when grasping objects.
"Whenever you're talking about a robot with an arm making contact with its environment–opening doors, touching a person–you have to be sensitive to that contact," Chris Jones, director for research advancement at iRobot, told Ars Technica in an interview.
Jones also pointed out that if an inflatable arm is driven into a wall, it won't drive through the wall or break like the other arms. Instead, the arms ill just buckle or fold once it hits the wall.
IRobot released some videos showing what its research team has been able to come up with so far.
In the video showing off the AIRarm, the arm pops out of the robot from a back compartment, and inflates like you would expect a bouncy castle to.
Another video shows the Advanced Suspension for Improved Mobility (ASIM) iRobot is building through DARPA funding. This robot is able to drive over rocks, 2x4 planks, and just about anything else without a bumpy ride for whatever payload is added. The company is designing this for DARPA to help robots traverse through rough terrain.
The video shows a side-by-side comparison of the robot with and without the suspension turned on, giving you a great idea at what suspension system iRobot has come up with.
DARPA just awarded iRobot an additional $650,000 contract continue its work on inflatable robotics.