Researchers at AIST, Keio University, and Muratec have been working on an autonomous, omnidirectional cart delivery robot called MKR-003 that pushes and drags trolleys (up to 30kg [66 lbs]) that connect directly to it. Primarily intended for use in hospitals to transport drugs, the robot autonomously avoids obstacles while navigating its environment through a combination of SLAM and local external sensors that can be quickly deployed. The goal is to integrate the system cheaply regardless of layout, while increasing hospital efficiency. The robot is controlled manually on its first pass, which allows it to generate maps. Afterward you can specify a destination and the robot will automatically determine the shortest route. It can only run for one hour, so it makes frequent stops at a charging station, where it takes 30 minutes to fully recharge. This is fairly inefficient compared to Panasonic’s HOSPI, which has a battery life of 8 hours.
It has a stereo camera rig in its head, ultrasonic sensors around its middle, and a laser range finder in its base. These give it a position accuracy to within 3cm while moving, and 3mm when carefully docking at its charging station. An LED signboard on its chest beams messages, and a small LCD screen on its back displays the map being generated. To improve safety the robot can voice its intended direction, while also communicating through simple arm gestures.
Leveraging the technology developed in a robot called Keita, they received funding from NEDO for the project in 2008, and it has since passed through to a second phase of development. If it manages to pass through to another phase, they should have enough time to sort out any remaining issues, such as potential problems sensing IV stands (the project deadline is 2013).
It has been tested at Kyoto’s Red Cross Hospital, where it was able to use the elevator. Students at the Red Cross School of Nursing sing carols to get into the Christmas spirit, and the MKR-003 dressed up and danced alongside them. Many photos (including MKR-003 dressed as Santa Claus) and a few videos showing its wobbly navigation follow after the break. It looks like it could benefit from the recently published ROS cart-pushing stack.
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