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Watch out, the Centibots are invading LinuxWorld

Jul 30, 2003 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 6 views

[Updated Jul. 31, 2003] — Via Technologies will demonstrate Linux-based robots developed by SRI International at next week's LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco. At 3 pm on Wednesday, August 6, the “Centibots” will conduct a search and rescue mission for a hidden penguin doll during a special event in the LinuxWorld “Taste of… Linux” pavilion, opposite Via's booth (#1776).

In the demonstration event, the robots will be shown a penguin doll and instructed to find this “object of interest” within an obstacle course. Once the penguin has been hidden, a preliminary mapping robot with laser range finders will identify the configuration of the maze, followed by a second wave of tracking robots that search for the penguin while sharing information and communicating with a command center over a wireless network.

SRI's Artificial Intelligence Center, one of the world's major centers of research in artificial intelligence, is using the robots to study distributed robotics. As totally self-contained, untethered entities, the Centibot 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.

According to SRI, the goal of the Centibot project is to demonstrate, by December 2004, 100 robots mapping, tracking, and guarding in a coherent fashion during a period of 24 hours. The Centibots are a team of 100 autonomous robots, consisting of 80 ActivMedia Amigobot and 20 ActivMedia Pioneer 2 AT bots. The Centibots operate autonomously, can intercommunicate with each other or a central server, and if one fails its task another can pick up from where the job is left undone, SRI said.

Basically, the Centibots project is a collaboration among SRI, Stanford University, University of Washington, and ActiveMedia Robotics, to design, implement, and demonstrate a computational framework for the coordination of very large robot teams, consisting of at least 100 small, resource limited robots, on indoor reconnaissance tasks including mapping, tracking and guarding. The project is primarily funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in an effort to develop new technologies for urban surveillance through distributed robotics.

The Amigobots are equipped with Via EPIA 5000 Mini-ITX form-factor single-board computers (pictured on the left), which serve as the embedded Linux platform, and 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 the VIA Vinyl Six-TRAC audio.

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.

Further details are available on the Centibots project website. Via is promoting the use of its Mini-ITX SBCs as platforms for robotics projects and products, and has established a page on its website dedicated to the company's Robotics Initiative.

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