Shoot, it used to be you’d have a whole team of iRobot robots, to man your factory or diffuse your explosives, but each one required its own joystick controller. That’s a lot to carry for a robot operator. But not anymore! Now iRobot has one Android app to man all its defence and security bots.
The app is called uPoint Multi-Robot Control system, and it will be available in the second quarter of 2015. Know how to use a tablet? Well guess what pal? You can drive any robot in the iRobot family.
Just so we’re clear, this app is not meant to man your Roomba. That’s a whole different thing. This app is for iRobot’s bots that do things for you remotely (these guys), such as hazmat work or disarming bombs. They do clean-up at Fukushima They did recon after the Boston Marathon bombing. If you’re unfamiliar with iRobot’s war machines, you can read a little more about them here. You’re not tooling around with these bots as a hobby, but they are useful and necessary in many cases. Just think of any kind of grunt work that might put you in harm’s way, dear human friend. That’s what these machines step in.
In any case, iRobot has standardized the control system with uPoint. Synergy, good. And the app is so easy to use! It includes a virtual joystick, vector control, autonomous and predictive driving modes, simple manipulation, and easy data sharing with other robot jockeys around you. You don’t have to have any prior training.
I gave it a try, and if I’m being honest I would tell you that I’m terrible at video games, and 10 times out of 10, will drive Yoshi into the wall in Mario Kart. iRobot’s app is even simpler. If you can drag and drop, you can drive. You simply drag your finger in the direction you want to steer the robot, and there it will go. If you want to control particular parts of each robot, you simply tap and hold down that piece, and drag it where you want it. The robot does the rest.
I had a lot of fun driving the iRobot FirstLook and the 510 PackBot around a showroom in Manhattan earlier this week. I am fairly certain I would have been unsuccessful in controlling them were it not for the new app, either. But it was simple enough to manipulate the grabbers, and it left a lot less room for human error. The future of robots, apparently, is an app.