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Robots Get Down to Business

At a conference in Boston, companies demonstrate robots for education, bomb disposal, agriculture, and more.

Yesterday, at the RoboBusiness conference in Boston, companies demonstrated a number of robots designed for use in offices, the military, even down on the farm (see a video here). While plenty of very cool, cutting-edge research is going on in robotics labs across the world, RoboBusiness focuses on those companies looking to turn that research into a profit. Here are some of the most promising robots on show at the event.

Segway’s Firefighter: Aside from the zippy personal transporter that most people have seen out and about, Segway has an extensive line of robots based on a versatile and robust wheeled platform. At the conference, Segway premiered a rugged, new, wheeled firefighting robot. It has a powerful, rotating spray nozzle, which could also be used for crowd control, according to Will Pong, director of robotics at Segway. The robotic firefighter can move at 18 miles per hour for 10 to 12 miles without stopping and can carry up to 400 pounds. The finished product is currently being tested and is already available for a few customers.

CCS Robotics’ Receptionist: A secretary and tour guide by day, security guard by night–that’s the role of a four-foot-tall wheeled robot called Guiabot, designed by CCS Robotics and Mobile Robots. With lasers and sonar sensors in its base, CCS can autonomously navigate a random or predecided path, successfully maneuvering around people and objects in its way. First introduced last year as a guest-greeting robotic butler, Guiabot is now in beta testing and is targeted toward offices and hospitals. A visitor can use the touch screen on Guiabot’s front to request the robot to show her around. A high-definition camera on its head also lets remote users interact with people via the robot. CCS Robotics envisions a human security guard using several Guiabots to efficiently patrol a large area.

Harvest Automation’s Gardener: Founded by former iRobot employees and announced last summer, Harvest Automation is developing small, wheeled robots that can pick up and move potted plants, filling a surprisingly big need in the nursery and greenhouse industries. When cultivating plants, suppliers must hire workers to move and space out pots in large fields. These small robots use local sensing to navigate, identify pots, and measure and maintain the correct distance between them. By automating this task, Harvest Automation aims to save suppliers millions a year.

RE2’s Handyman: A company based out of Pittsburgh called Robotics Engineering Excellence (RE2) is retrofitting bomb-disposal robots with different tools on their arms, for less dangerous industrial tasks. The company is currently designing a tool belt that a robot will carry around so that it can automatically attach different tools to the end of its own arm, without needing a human’s help. So far, the company has prototypes of a gripper, knife, and scooper and a rotating gripper, and it’s planning to make a drill, a wire cutter, and more, according to Patrick Rowe, the company’s vice president of research and development.

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