The Benefit of Clustered Robots

27 July 2008 at 11:12 | Posted in Innovations, Robotics, Robots | Leave a comment
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[Category: Innovations. If you are new to my blog please read the “About itimes3” page first]

The traditional image of a robot is that of essentially a stand-alone device. The industrial robot, the Roomba at home, the humanoid robot in movies or Japanese tv shows, or the battlefield robot in Iraq all have one thing in common: they are a single entity with a narrowly defined set of purposes (or single purpose).

The reason for this could possibly be the fact that human thinking tends to follow the same time-honoured principles, and does not automatically innovate and stray from those principles.

I believe that what I call “clustered robots” are a better solution in many cases. What I mean by this is a set of robots working together, and in many cases also partly physically integrated.

For example, say I have a humanoid robot at home, which can do basic things around the house. One of these things is opening the fridge and extracting a can of beer. Now traditional thinking (and you see this out there in practice all the time when the subject is robots) will see the robot extract the can of beer, and then walk a relatively long distance to present the beer to its owner. The reason for this is that a human would do it this way, and the robot is modelled after the human.

If we look at the situation with an independent practical eye however, we can see that there are better options.

The humanoid robot opening the fridge and extracting the beer: so far so good (although in a fully robotized home, we will need to “rethink” the fridge and in fact the entire kitchen and home – reinvent the environment for robotics, not adapt robotics to an environment that was made for humans). However – to continue the story – once the beer is extracted from the fridge, there are quicker ways to get it to its destination: how about an indoor helicopter-robot for example?

The unit could be about a foot long and several of them could be perched atop the humanoid robot and be part of its “network”. Once the can of beer is extracted, the helicopter grabs it and flies it to its destination. Faster and more efficient. If there are several people awaiting drinks, several helicopter robots could be launched simultaneously to deliver them. Similarly, other specialist robots could be “clustered” together with the humanoid and its helicopters and be launched as required.

This just as an example. Other types of robots could benefit from similar “cluster” designs. So far, I have seen no true clustered robots although I can imagine that some already exist (I guess you could call a Predator drone equipped with a Hellfire missile a clustered robot in a sense – the Hellfire being a robot in itself).

What I am getting at is that I believe robots would often be able to offer more advanced functionality by being clustered together, with the “cluster” of robots (the robotic entity) functioning as one. Some robots in the cluster would physically stick together (such as the helicopters perched atop the humanoid so they are immediately ready for action), others would “roam” in the vicinity and be available to be summoned into action as required, all depending on their individual functionality. By adding more robots to the cluster, the overall functionality of the robotic entity as a whole can be significantly expanded.

If you like this idea and you work in a type of industry where this is relevant, I would be happy to discuss in more detail, answer questions or assist in other ways. For details and contact information please see the “About itimes3” page.

George Spark

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