The 5 Keys to Mobile Manipulation

Original article was published by Jennifer Brozak on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

The 5 Keys to Mobile Manipulation

RE2’s newest eBook examines the key characteristics of intelligent mobile manipulation systems

The Evolution of Mobile Manipulation

Since the 1960s, robotic arms have been transforming the way companies do business. Although they were big, bulky, and highly specialized, early industrial robotic arms were able to automate repetitive tasks at a rate of three times the speed of humans. Several decades later, robotic arms are not only smaller and sleeker, but also able to mimic the way humans think, react, and adapt.

Although mobile robots have existed for decades, it was the U.S. Military that widely adopted and deployed unmanned ground vehicles with manipulation capability to keep troops safe while performing EOD missions during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Considered cutting-edge at the time, these simple robotic arms with minimal degrees of freedom would be considered crude by today’s standards, especially since modern robot arms can offer more dexterity than that of a human arm.

Today, with ongoing advancements in robotic hardware components and intelligent software capabilities, intelligent mobile manipulation has become a reality. In this eBook, we define mobile manipulation and the five key characteristics that intelligent mobile robots must possess in order to automate anywhere–the ability to move, interact, see, think, and communicate.

Key #1: The Ability to Move

Mobility Increases Functionality

Traditional robotic arms are bolted to factory floors, where work can only be performed within the limits of the robot’s workspace. By integrating robotic arms with mobile platforms, no longer does a task have to be performed in a static location; rather, the robot can move to any location to perform a desired task. Mobility allows businesses to think about the function of robotics differently when compared to traditional industrial robots.

Mobility can come in different forms based on the application and the environment. Mobile robots can have wheels, tracks, and even legs. No matter the form, the platform must provide the proper level of stability and power to enable the attachment of robotic arm(s) to operate seamlessly with the base. To truly automate anywhere, mobile platforms should ideally be rugged enough to go where humans can go, even through inclement weather.

These mobile platforms also give robots the ability to access environments that are hazardous to humans. Long used by the military for EOD and combat engineering missions, mobile robots are being used for hazardous tasks across numerous industries, including aviation, energy, and oil and gas, to keep front line workers out of harm’s way.

The ability to go where humans can go is the first step in enabling intelligent mobile manipulation.

In future articles, we’ll examine the remaining 4 keys in the eBook. In the meantime, you can visit the RE2 Robotics website for more information.