iRobot, the company that has designed and built robots since 1990, will now be meeting its technological goals with the help of a tablet to control its machines. iRobot’s newly developed MRC system, which stands for Multi-Robot Control system, will allow users, particularly soldiers and police officers in high-stress and dangerous situations, to operate its robots using an Android tablet.
Currently, the robots are operated via a joystick and a separate monitor. However, when the robots are finally fitted with the MRC system, users will no longer have to use the joystick and monitor. This also translates to possibly large savings of time and money since users will no longer have to spend hours and days being trained on the joystick and monitor. Rather, users will be able to navigate and steer their robots simply by using the app on their Android tablet.
Other features that will be enhanced as iRobot meets the tablet is control of more than one robot. When using the app on the Android users will be able to switch between steering of different robots simply by switching tabs on their device. Also, the MRC system will allow for sharing of data between team members as well as capturing and uploading video through a robot’s camera. In addition, the new operating system will have a compass, GPS and inertial sensors, allowing the robots to “think for themselves” in a sense.
The app will not communicate through Bluetooth systems since such systems might not be secure enough for military or law enforcement tasks. Instead, the app will communicate with the machines through iRobot’s own radio network.
iRobot is perhaps best known for its popular home cleaning device the Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner. However, as it states on its website, the company actually has divisions beyond robots for home use. It builds robots for businesses and for defense and security purposes as well, with robots already being used by the military to dispose of bombs and for various reconnaissance missions.
iRobot appears to have a popular Facebook page for its Roomba product with a number of popular posts such as a cat riding on a Roomba, a chance for fans of the page to win a Roomba and other posts encouraging users to do things other than cleaning their floors, which the Roomba can do for them. However, there is also a Facebook page for the less well-known defense and security division of iRobot. Its page states that its robots “help keep first responders and soldiers safe.” On Thursday, that page used a quote to explain its new MRC system, saying that the basic concept behind the system is “If you can play Angry Birds, you can control our robots.” The page also boasts of government contracts the company has won as well as posts honoring the military that uses its products.
While iRobot’s new system that meets and marries robots to tablets is used via an Android app, the company says it does have an observer mode that is cloud-based and can be used with iOS tablets. The MRC system is expected to be released in the second quarter of 2015.
By Jennifer Fernicola Ronay