A University of California Davis start-up is commercializing a modular robot, "iMobot" that can drive on its wheels, crawl like an inchworm, and raise one end of its body and pan around as a camera platform.
The "off-the-shelf" robot will allow robotics researchers to study fields like artificial intelligence, biomimetics, and robot collaboration without having to build the hardware.
According to the inventors, Graham Ryland and Professor Harry Chengchnology, the technology could also be used in industrial applications for rapidly prototyping complex robotics, and may eventually form the basis of robots for search-and-rescue operations in difficult terrain.
"We wanted to create a robot that was modular and could be assembled together, but was also mobile and useful by itself. We feel this hardware platform could drastically speed up university and industry research in the field of robotics," Ryland said in a release.
A single iMobot module has four controllable degrees of freedom, with two joints in the center section and two wheels, one on each end.
The individual modules could be assembled into larger robots for specific tasks, such as a snakelike configuration to crawl into confined spaces.
The patent-pending iMobot could be used as a testbed tool for engineers studying control systems for individual robots or groups of robots, Cheng said.
"It's very difficult to build the kind of robot with flexibility, modularity, and reconfigurability that people want to use for research and teaching," he said. Unlike most commercial robots that are designed for a single purpose, iMobots operate as durable subunits that can function alone or be configured for a specific task.
The start-up (Barobo, Inc.) received a small-business innovation research grant from the National Science Foundation, and aims to have iMobot on the market by the end of the year.