Bosch Researchers Work to Bring Robotics into Tomorrow's Home

Press Release | Robert Bosch LLC | September 27, 2011

Halfway through the two-year program, Bosch has contributed to significant technology advancements through collaboration with the PR2 open-source community, helping shape market requirements and supporting the technology development for future household robots that are affordable, capable and safe.

Palo Alto, Calif. /PRNewswire/ — It’s Monday morning. The average American household hits the ground running for the week ahead. Kids grab their lunches and rush to catch their bus while multitasking adults strive to bring some semblance of order to the chaos before heading out the door. While this scene takes place in virtually millions of homes every day, in the not-too-distant future, there is likely to be “someone” with additional hands to help the family restore order – and his name may be “Alan.”

Bosch Research and Technology Center (RTC) is helping accelerate tomorrow’s use of personal robotics with “Alan” the robot, part of the Personal Robot 2 (PR2) Beta Program by Willow Garage, Inc. Halfway through the two-year program, Bosch has contributed to significant technology advancements through collaboration with the PR2 open-source community, helping shape market requirements and supporting the technology development for future household robots that are affordable, capable and safe.

“It is estimated that consumers will enjoy the functionality of personal robots within the next five to 10 years,” said Peter Marks, chairman, president and CEO, Robert Bosch LLC and member of the Board of Management. “The progress of this PR2 program in computing power and sensor technology, which was not feasible before now, is groundbreaking and indicative of Bosch’s tradition of innovation. We look forward to a day when robots like Alan help make our lives at home simpler.”

Since its involvement in the PR2 program, Bosch has put hardware and software solutions to the test, enabling new applications, reducing development cost and improving overall robot safety through work in four areas: shared autonomy (human assistance), remote experimentation, affordable sensing (devices that process data) and hackathons (exploring new applications).

Robots can complete household chores with shared autonomy

To be practical, a household robot must be able to accomplish intricate tasks that are difficult to automate, such as folding laundry. In order to mitigate reliability concerns and increase efficiency, Bosch has enabled robots to utilize help from a human operator, helping maximize the robot’s performance.

An intuitive interface was developed that allows a remote teleoperator to control the robot and manage complex tasks over a web connection. Bosch’s shared autonomy technologies reduce time and computational needs solving loops in planning, control and perception, so that a human operator can compensate for limitations of the robot’s autonomy.

PR2 Remote Lab and open-source community improves research

State-of-the-art research platforms are scarce and often too expensive for smaller universities and companies, limiting productivity in robotics research. To expand research initiatives, Bosch has developed the PR2 Remote Lab, a research lab in which users can develop, test and compare robot algorithms remotely from around the world.

In collaboration with Brown University, Bosch developed an infrastructure that allows the PR2 robot to be controlled over the internet, providing a browser-based infrastructure that includes sensor feedback, 3D models, and camera streams, allowing users to see the results of their code, interact with the PR2 from afar, and ultimately, improve the robot.

Affordable sensing enables new applications while reducing cost

Bosch identified and integrated suitable sensor technologies, such as gyros, force sensors and air pressure sensors in the PR2 to enable new applications and lower production costs. These are the same outstanding automotive quality technologies Bosch uses for automotive grade sensors, as well as cost-efficient consumer grade sensors from Bosch Sensortec. Providing algorithms with a focus on automatic calibration, Bosch developed the required drivers to integrate its sensors into ROS (Robot Operating System), a free, open-source system that provides resources such as hardware abstraction, visualizers, message-passing and package management for developers to create new robot applications that accelerate commercialization. In addition to the software integration, Bosch supports the PR2 community by providing sensors free of charge.

A significant portion of robotic production costs go into the development of manipulators – commonly known as the robot’s arms, wrists and body. To reduce costs without sacrificing performance, Bosch explored the use of Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors in place of more expensive encoders.

This solution resulted in the PR2’s enhanced ability to navigate human environments and the dexterity to grasp and manipulate objects, such as opening a door, in a cost-effective manner.

PR2 demonstrates a range of capabilities during hackathons

To evaluate potential applications for the PR2, Bosch researchers hosted one-week project sprints called “hackathons.” During these collaborative events, the PR2 demonstrated its ability to accomplish complex tasks, such as carving wooden nameplates using Bosch’s Dremel® power tool, drawing on a white board and delivering mail autonomously.

In a recent hackathon, an autonomous beverage-serving application was debuted using the PR2 and a TurtleBot™ (a low-cost, personal robot). Working with Brown University; University of California, Berkeley; and the Technische Universität, Munich, Germany; Bosch created a web interface in which the PR2 uses precise manipulation functions to retrieve a beverage from the refrigerator, while the TurtleBot™ delivers the beverage to the requester.

Developments that employ multiple robots further enable affordability and proficiency. More expensive robots with manipulation functions can be used for more difficult tasks, while less expensive robots can be used for transport and less complex activity.

“At Bosch, our ultimate vision is to develop a generalized household robot that is affordable and capable of making life easier for families and individuals,” said Jan Becker, senior manager, Bosch Research and Technology Center North America. “Advanced applications are shaping the personal robotics industry, predicted to be worth $15 billion within the next decade, helping people in need accomplish challenging tasks.”

Bosch’s Research and Technology Center is demonstrating personal robotics research results with the PR2 at the 2011 Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) conference in San Francisco, Calif., at the Hilton in San Francisco, Calif., Sept. 25 – 30, where Bosch is serving as a platinum sponsor. IROS attracts top researchers from many countries to present their original results every year, as well as students, developers, and entrepreneurs looking to catch up on the vast developments in robotics. The theme of the conference is Human-Centered Robotics, and its format features innovations in the form of interactive multimedia presentations and special symposiums celebrating 50 years of robotics.