Even in this tough economy, robots are being introduced for a variety of new application areas. In the manufacturing sector, the number of robots is increasing as capital permits. Other robotics markets that are seeing growth include the medical, service, space and military segments. Meanwhile, the era of the consumer robot--once the stuff of science fiction--swept in with the Roomba and is starting to change our everyday lives at home.
The current growth is not just a fad. Many tasks that are "dull, dirty and dangerous" will eventually be performed by robots. How will technology meet this future demand?
Our anatomy model, VINI, is a research robot for National Instruments. Its primary purpose is to help NI engineers learn how LabView can be improved in the area of robotics. VINI features many sensors, four processing nodes and mecanum wheels. It can operate in remote control mode from a laptop, as well as autonomous navigation mode. Future missions for VINI include simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) and facial recognition.
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Before robots can become truly ubiquitous, technology advancements must be made in these areas:
» faster overall real-time system response (from sensor to actuator) for greater robot functionality;
» advanced artificial intelligence to enable more autonomous decision-making;
» small, lightweight sensors and actuators to enable smaller and more energy-efficient robots; and
» the ability of a robot to monitor and generate its own power in order to prolong autonomous operation.
To be able to peer into the future, it is wise to examine the current state of robotics technology. What better way to do so than to hoist a representative robot up on the dissection table and really examine its "anatomy"?
As any good doctor would tell you, the starting part of any anatomical study is to categorize the parts. The pieces that make up a robot can be grouped into five major categories of interest to an electronics engineer: sensors, communications, control, actuators and power.