December 11, 2013

Slideshow: 10 Linux-Based Robots by Land, Air, And Sea

In the year since we ran our last Linux robot slideshow, the field has expanded considerably. In addition to major new Linux-based commercial products like Lego's Mindstorms EV3 educational robot kit, there are dozens of open spec kit designs available, many of them from small hobbyist groups. A number of these integrate Rasbperry Pi or BeagleBone single board computers, often in conjunction with Arduino motor controllers.

Baxter Linux robotMost of these robots are simple creations that are typically limited to rolling around and shooting video. Some offer sensor arrays, and a few provide basic 2- or 3-DOF (degrees of freedom) arms and grippers. Moving up the price range, several new telepresence robots have popped up, aimed at the corporate market. These include Suitable Technologies' Linux-based Beam telepresence robot.

The market is growing for more advanced, but relatively low-cost manufacturing robots that offer greater DOF flexibility and strength. Like the Beam, many combine Linux with the open source Robot Operating System (ROS). These include one of our few holdovers from last year: the updated 2.0 version of Rethink Wireless's Baxter. Like ABB's Frida, Baxter is one of a new wave of robots designed to safely work alongside humans in complex manufacturing jobs that have yet to be easily automated.

A simpler, but somewhat similar robot is being developed by Unbounded Robotics, which like Suitable Technologies is a spinoff from now-defunct ROS creator Willow Garage. The company is developing a ROS/Linux mobile manipulation robot called the UBR-1 that will ship next summer. There are also a number of new robots that are all arm, and no body that can be attached to other robots or mounted in place.

We did not find any suitable Android robots for our list. Most Android robots are actually BYOD devices in which users pop in an Android tablet or smartphone as a removable multimedia brain, typically in telepresence robots. This may be the approach that will be favored in upcoming Google robots. On Dec. 4. Android creator Andy Rubin revealed that he is spearheading a robot "moonshot" project for Google. It's unclear whether the Google robots will run Android or Linux, or will run solely on ROS or another RTOS, with Android devices used as remote controllers.

Most of the robots from last year's list are still being updated, and only one -- the open source Linux PC Robot -- has been discontinued. This slide show is not intended as a definitive "best of" list, but rather as a sampling of some innovative new or newly updated robots ranging from simple kits to a few advanced systems that have yet to leave the laboratory.



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