|The global mobile robotics market is driven by the integration of mobile robots with mobile computing devices, smart phones and other industrial applications. Government bodies seeking to streamline and automate manufacturing industries also provide significant funds for the research and development in the field of mobile robotics. The reduction in prices of cameras and sensors, and the availability of open source platforms has resulted in market entry of new companies with innovative products at competitive process. However, the high cost required for research and development of innovative products and longer time to market of these products could hinder growth of the global mobile robotics market in the near term.
Market segments include Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), and Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) including Autonomous Grounded Vehicles (AGVs).
The first requirement for complete physical autonomy is the ability for a robot to take care of itself. Many of the battery-powered robots on the market today can find and connect to a charging station, and some toys like Sony's Aibo are capable of self-docking to charge their batteries. Self-maintenance is based on "proprioception", or sensing one's own internal status. In the battery charging example, the robot can tell proprioceptively that its batteries are low and it then seeks the charger. Another common proprioceptive sensor is for heat monitoring. Increased proprioception will be required for robots to work autonomously near people and in harsh environments. Common proprioceptive sensors include thermal, optical, and haptic sensing, as well as the Hall effect (electric).
Sensing the environment:
Exteroception is sensing things about the environment. Autonomous robots must have a range of environmental sensors to perform their task and stay out of trouble.
Common exteroceptive sensors include the electromagnetic spectrum, sound, touch, chemical (smell, odor), temperature, range to various objects, and altitude.
Some robotic lawn mowers will adapt their programming by detecting the speed in which grass grows as needed to maintain a perfectly cut lawn, and some vacuum cleaning robots have dirt detectors that sense how much dirt is being picked up and use this information to tell them to stay in one area longer.
The next step in autonomous behavior is to actually perform a physical task. A new area showing commercial promise is domestic robots, with a flood of small vacuuming robots beginning with iRobot and Electrolux in 2002. While the level of intelligence is not high in these systems, they navigate over wide areas and pilot in tight situations around homes using contact and non-contact sensors. Both of these robots use proprietary algorithms to increase coverage over simple random bounce.
The next level of autonomous task performance requires a robot to perform conditional tasks. For instance, security robots can be programmed to detect intruders and respond in a particular way depending upon where the intruder is.
Key vendors: Boston Dynamics, Kiva Systems, Seegrid