Scientific American's 21st Century Robotics (Scientific American Special Online PDF

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Military’s research and development arm— is funding the development of the Packbot, which is designed to do reconnaissance and surveillance in environments where it would not be safe for humans to go. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, military officials recog- Kibbles and Bytes nized that telepresence robots could aid the search-and-rescue efforts. So the engineers at iRobot attached video and infrared cameras to the prototype Packbots and rushed them to New York. At the Somerville office I watched an engineer fasten two flashlights and a camera to a Packbot that would soon be taken to the World Trade Center site.

Some robots made possible by the advent of microprocessors in the 1980s track softer cues, like magnets or optical patterns in tiled floors, and use ultrasonics and infrared proximity sensors to detect and negotiate their way around obstacles. The most advanced industrial mobile robots, developed since the late 1980s, are guided by occasional navigational markers—for instance, laser-sensed bar codes—and by preexisting features such as walls, corners and doorways. The costly labor of laying guide wires is replaced by custom software that is carefully tuned for each route segment.

The machines found no survivors but located the bodies of several victims. This grim task was perhaps the best demonstration of the value of telepresence. As I drove back to New York, I felt a grudging respect for the robots— and for the men and women who’d built them. Originally published in June 2001 HOW MUCH IS THAT ROBOTIC DOGGY IN THE WINDOW? BY MARK ALPERT A wonderful childlike excitement filled the halls of Scientific American on the day that the Aibo ERS-210 arrived in the mail. Clutching the box tightly, I rushed to the office of my colleague George Musser and shouted, “It’s here!

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21st Century Robotics (Scientific American Special Online Issue No. 14) by Scientific American

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