Robot maker iRobot will release a new open development environment at the companys annual Payload Developers Conference in Arlington, Va., Dec. 5-6.
The new development environment consists of iRobot Aware 2.0 and a new Robot Developers Kit. Both are aimed at developers who want to create add-on capabilities for the companys versatile PackBot robot. The PackBot is designed to accept a wide variety of sensors, control units and manipulators so that it can handle an equally wide variety of missions. Most PackBots are in use by the U.S. military, but some are entering commercial and municipal service.
"Aware 2.0 it is a new open architecture for us," said Tom Ryden, director of sales and special projects for iRobot, of Burlington, Mass. "It is a system weve designed to allow developers to hook into our software and develop payloads that they can add to our robots," he explained.
"There is a lot of development now in new sensors, especially in chemical and biological areas, that developers want to add to our robots," Ryden said. "Developers can design their own payloads and make them available for the robots independently," he said, "They dont have to go through iRobot." Ryden said that iRobot will provide help and support to developers and teach them how to use the software and support tools.
"We recognize that our expertise is in the robots but not necessarily in the sensors," Ryden said, adding, "Theres a company developing a see-through-the-wall radar sensor."
Ryden said that allowing developers to create new sensors, controls and the like for their robots will add great capabilities to the PackBot. "Were very excited about it," Ryden said. "Were looking at getting the best-in-class sensors on our robots."
He added that the new approach will also improve the pace of development. "By allowing these outside sensors to be developed by third parties, it allows these capabilities to get out more quickly," he said.
"We have added a network-centric component-based architecture," Ryden said. "Its portable across operating environments. We work on Fedora Core and Blue Cat, and it also supports Windows."
Ryden said that while the PackBot isnt highly autonomous on its own, it can become so. "It has sensors that allow the robot to understand the environment," Ryden noted. "We have an autonomous PackBot that has a perimeter following routine. Weve added a series of sensors that provide range input," he said.
Ryden said that other development efforts include mesh networking for the robots and what he called "radio breadcrumbs"—a way for the robot to drop off a series of radio repeaters so it can stay in touch as it moves beyond normal radio range.
Ryden said that a key factor for iRobot is to support as many environments as possible.