BURLINGTON, Mass.—iRobot has taken a major step in encouraging the development of autonomous household robots with its Create device.
The Create includes the chassis and brains of an iRobot Roomba, along with an interface device that allows it to communicate with the outside world. The vacuum cleaner parts have been removed to make room for other devices.
IRobot officials say the company, based here, has already seen some unexpected innovations from its own engineers using the platform.
The Create, first shown earlier this year at the International CES event, is now available to developers, who can download small scripts into the robot using a terminal program; write programs for autonomous operations using C or C++; or use other methods, including Microsofts Robotics Studio.
“People were buying Roombas and hacking them,” explained iRobot Chairman Helen Greiner, one of the founders of the company. Greiner said that in many cases, robotics developers spend months or years working on just the basic chassis and control mechanisms. With the Create, she said, developers can go directly to creating applications and add-on devices.
The Create includes an open interface that provides access to robotic actuators and sensors, as well as just about anything else that can be mounted on the robot chassis and operated by the interface device. The standard open interface is available as an option.
The product also includes a number of prethreaded mounting points for securing devices to the robot, as well as industry-standard electronics connectors for control and sensor attachments.
In addition to providing development information with the robot and on the companys Web site, iRobot is announcing a development community on the Web.
Pricing for the Create starts at $130.
iRobot has also announced new devices for the military, including the Fido, which is designed to sniff out explosives. The company reports it has just received a $16.6 million order from the Department of Defense for 100 of these innovative robots.
According to Greiner, the Fido can inspect the inside of a vehicle to detect explosives, check underneath a vehicle for bombs and otherwise determine if a suspect vehicle is safe.
The Fido has a 7-foot arm that can extend itself inside a vehicle so that its cameras and chemical sensors can check thoroughly. It can send the images and readings of what it finds back to its control station in real time.
With the proper antennas, the Fido can work at a distance of up to 1,000 meters from its control unit. In areas where radio operation is difficult, it can also be operated over a self-spooling fiber-optic cable.
ICx Nomadics provides the chemical sensors for the deployed version of the Fido. The 100 new Fido explosive-detection units will be in addition to the more than 800 iRobot products already provided to the military for use in Iraq, Afghanistan and other sensitive areas.
iRobot also announced the PackBot 510, which the company describes as a next-generation explosive-ordnance-disposal robot, which will begin shipping this month. The new version of the PackBot will be faster, stronger and easier to control. Troops will be able to use a modified version of a standard Logitech game controller to operate the PackBot 510.
Greiner said iRobot will announce a series of new consumer robots in the near future, but she declined to provide details, citing “competitive issues.”