LinuxWorld 2003: VIA, SRI show Centibot’s ‘search and rescue’

San Francisco, CA—VIA Technologies Inc. (Taipei, Taiwan) and SRI International (Menlo Park ,CA) held a live demonstration of SRI's Linux-based robots, “Centibots,” at IDG's LinuxWorld 2003, Aug. 5-7, at the Moscone Center.


San Francisco, CA— VIA Technologies Inc. and SRI International held a live demonstration of SRI's Linux-based robots, “ Centibots ,” at IDG's LinuxWorld 2003, Aug. 5-7, at the Moscone Center. In an obstacle course at VIA’s booth and the 'Taste of Linux Theatre,' the Centibots navigated a course to find a hidden Linux penguin doll, showing their advanced navigation and mapping capabilities, which are based on VIA’s EPIA Mini-ITX M10000 mainboard.

VIA develops silicon chip technologies and PC platform solutions. Founded as Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in 1946, SRI International is a non-profit research and technology development organization.

The mapping-and-tracking Centibots are built from off-the-shelf components, including VIA’s EPIA M10000 mainboard. SRI's Artificial Intelligence Center is using the robots to study distributed robotics. As totally self-contained, untethered entities, these robots can determine their own location and plan their own path; process images they see; make decisions based on a continually expanding knowledge base; and negotiate with other robots when teamwork is required.

'The VIA EPIA M10000 mainboard gives the Centibots the needed amount of computing power and flexibility,' says Charles Ortiz, Ph.D., program manager of SRI’s Teambotics program. 'The small form factor, power efficiency and rich connectivity enable our robots to be used both as individual entities or when the scalability of a coordinated robot team is needed.'

After being shown the penguin doll, this 'object of interest,' was hidden in the obstacle course, and the robot was instructed to find it. The search began with a preliminary mapping robot with laser range finders, which identified the configuration of the maze. This was followed by a second wave of tracking robots, which searched for the penguin, while sharing information and communicating with a command center over a wireless network.

'The increasing role of robotics technologies in everyday life is inevitable. Accelerating that process requires a platform that is open to a worldwide community of developers,' says Richard Brown, VIA’s associate marketing VP. 'By making the x86 architecture the foundation for robot development, we are ensuring a quick learning curve for humans and robots alike, maximizing the contribution from the engineering and robot enthusiast communities and advancing projects that drive new levels of robotics innovation.'

VIA recently launched its VIA Robotics Initiative in response to what it reports is an inexorable melding of mechanical robots and the PC architecture that makes possible the performance of many commercial and personal tasks in the home or business based on trained or learned behavior.

SRI's Centibots project, sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), endeavors to create a system in which a team of robots can go into an unknown environment; build a map in real time; and deploy itself to search that environment. Ideally suited for areas that are not safe for humans, such as earthquake-damaged buildings or chemical spill sites, the robots can sense environmental details that humans cannot, and can build maps to facilitate searches for people needing to be rescued.

These robots use VIA’s EPIA M10000 mainboard, which acts as the eyes and ears of the robot through highly integrated connectivity features, and integrated sonar on the robot's chassis, while the robot's voice is enabled by VIA’s Vinyl Six-TRAC audio. The mainboard is reportedly well-known for low power consumption, cool operating environment, and integrated USB 2.0 and Firewire that facilitate functions, such as localization, map exploration and object tracking using a top-mounted camera.

In addition, the robots run the Debian distribution of Linux, and use a software control system developed at SRI's Artificial Intelligence Center that was first created as an integrated architecture for robot perception and action. Whether it is the first robot that determines the location of the object, or other robots that approach the object once found, SRI's artificial intelligence system enables them to proceed in unknown or uncertain environments along the most efficient path. An external outdoor antenna and 802.11b wireless card ensure a robust signal range.

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Jim Montague, news editor

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