Architectural designer Philip started to develop a superior construction toy for his children, when it unpredictably resulted in the world’s first modular multi-functional robot system. A robot can traditionally handle one task at a time, but it is an unknown area as to happens when the working environment demands multiple tasks.
Instead of enduring multiple different robots, dealing with multiple different companies, using multiple different interfaces, with multiple different support teams and multiple different contracts, Philip, with maxon motor designed one robot, an intelligent mobile machine, that can be modularly configured to do multiple tasks.
Philip’s company, Ross Robotics, specialises in building UGV’s that replace people where they shouldn’t or can’t work. Unmanned robots are ideal for dull, dirty and dangerous tasks.
They are deployed in settings such as:
Back in 2010, Philip was looking for a DC motor that was easy to drive at a low speed, had a high torque and importatly was of a certain size because of the small space envelope they had. “We enjoy working with maxon, they are always happy to help.”
The company prides itself on producing easy to use unmanned vehicles that customers can devise themselves depending on their requirement. Useability is key. Instead of the usual two-dimensional modularity, the unique design has three dimensional modularity. This means each part connects with many other parts in many ways.
Some of the distinctive features are:
The robots are extremely resilient and designed to perform in unstructured environments, to avoid obstacles, to react to unpredictable events and cope with vibration, dust and radiation. It is these characteristics that have brought the company to the attention of CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, the EDEN project at Chernobyl, the security forces, first responders and the emergency services.
Ross Robotics has a collaborative parternship with CERN. CERN has over 50k of tunnels and the mobile machine is used for inspection. It has to be non-magnetic as the radiation reaches four Tesla and has to cope with spikes of magnetic flux. CERN have developed their own artificial intelligence for the rovers, including highly resilent Simultaneous Location and Mapping (SLAM).
At Chenobyl the modular robotic delivery platform used sensors to map the area. After a long day’s work it took a conventional robot rover two hours to be decontaminated, which involved taking every single element apart and carefully and meticulously removing radiation. It took the Ross Robotics rover only 15 minutes.
For future designs the company take a lot of inspiration from living creatures, Philip concluded. “Look at arthropods, they are the most successful creatures on the planet. They are adaptable, with flexible structures and everything is compliant, very much like our modular robots.”