A collaborative effort between Japan Robotech, Kokushikan University, and the Waseda University Faculty of Science and Engineering demonstrates to us how a simple smartphone-based “wheeled” robot could conquer any kind of terrain.
The unit is a solar-powered robot designed to autonomously move and navigate continuously over outdoor environments. What is peculiar about this robot is that its wheels are not directly used to cruise over flat ground; instead the wheels “walk”. The set of six wheels actually tread the ground by alternately raising and lowering three wheels at a time with the use of brushless DC motors, simulating a walk-like motion. This very simple motion system makes it capable of travelling through most kinds of terrain, albeit at a sluggish pace of 0.1 meters per second, and at a limited slope/inclination angle of 18 degrees.
Aside from its method of propulsion, another vital component (and perhaps the more important one) of the test robot is a smartphone, which directly integrated into its systems. The smartphone used for the test unit is an Xperia SX SO-05D, which uses an Android 4.0 (ICS) OS. As the smartphone is directly connected to all of its sensors, with a custom application, the robot is capable of analyzing and sending collected environmental data via 3G/LTE networks and store it on a cloud-based data storage system. In addition, the unit could also use the smartphone’s GPS system to actively monitor its location in real time.
The dimensions of the test robot are 250 x 360 x 200 mm. The material used for the body is CFRP, and it has been demonstrated to be considerably waterproof.
The unit has four modes, all of which are switched and changed automatically by its system. The first one is its normal auto-search mode. The second is its charging mode, where it stands by as it charges itself through solar power. If in case it is incapable of generating or charging power for whatever reason, it would then go into to its sleep mode. As soon as it receives commands remotely, it would then go into its long range control mode. Once it completes all remote instructions given, it would then go back into auto-search mode.
There were two primary objectives for the development of the test robot’s system. The first was to create a very simple control system that would still allow autonomous movement through calculation and measurement. The second is to be able to deploy multiple units easily (due to its simple design). As for the objective of the robot itself, it is said to be potentially useful in long term environmental missions such monitoring wild animals on very remote areas, or constant observation of agricultural areas for various measurements and possible pest/stray animal activity.
Japan Robotech has already announced their plans to make the robot commercially available. A consumer version of the robot can be available as early as this year (2013), although it is projected that it would be fully available for purchase around the third quarter of 2014. The price for one unit is estimated to go from 150,000-500,000 yen (1,530-5,090 USD), depending on the number of external sensors and equipment that would be installed by default.