KUKA's youBot Mobile Manipulator Unveiled

In a unique step for an industrial robot manufacturer, robotics giant KUKA has released a mobile platform (wow) with open interfaces (wow) that include several open source (wow) software modules for education and research (wow). Yes, that's "wow" four times!

The robot is clearly a big move for KUKA, known for more traditional industrial systems, but perhaps even more significant, it's also a departure from the proprietary software, closed interfaces, and stationary robots typically used by all major industrial robotics companies, including ABB, Fanuc, and KUKA itself.

The KUKA youBot was introduced at the Automatica conference in Munich, Germany this week. Its hardware was custom developed by KUKA. The software was created as part of the European Best Practices in Robotics, or BRICS, project, funded under the EU's FP7 robotics framework.

It is too early to say whether the youBot is a forerunner of a bigger trend, but it makes for some amusing Friday afternoon musing: Industrial manipulators have been mostly stationary systems. Will they now start moving around?

Is this the beginning of a new class of robots, bridging the gap between today's industrial and service robots? And is industrial robotics moving towards more open standards, or are we moving towards a split into specialized hardware and software companies, similar to what happened in the PC industry? 

Either way, KUKA's youBot looks promising:

Hardware Specs:

youBot arm: Serial kinematics with 5 degrees of freedom (655mm height, 0.513 m³ work envelope, 6kg weight, 0.5kg payload, 0.1 mm repeatability, 80W power limit (for safety)). Fix axes serial structure with a two finger gripper at the flange. Links are made of very lightweight, but stiff magensium cast. Custom, lightweight motor-gear combinations.

youBot gripper: detachable, 2-finger gripper attached to the arm (10mm stroke/finger = 20m opening stroke; different mounting allows to grip objects up to 70mm diameter)

youBot platform: omnidirectional mobile platform with 4 KUKA omniWheels (530x360x106mm, 15 mm clearance, 20kg total weight, 20kg payload, 0.8m/s speed, EtherCAT communication, 24V)

Energy supply: one set of two batteries (Two 12 V, 5 Ah, maintenance-free lead acid rechargeable batteries; approximate runtime: 90 minutes) embedded into mobile platform

On-board PC: mini ITX board form factor (embedded CPU, passively cooled, 512 MB RAM, 4 GB Compact Flash, WLAN, USB), embedded into the mobile platform

Software Specs:

Open source robot controller with open interfaces (position, velocity and current control)
BRIDE (BRics Integrated Development Environment) based on Eclipse to simplify application development
BROCRE (BRICS Open Code Repository) offers interoperable interfaces and best practice algorithms libraries:
    - BRICS_MM for mobile manipulation
    - BRICS_3D for 3D perception and modelling
    - BRICS_RN for robust navigation)
Blender simulation model
Sample applications

The video below features the current prototype. The final version will have magnesium casings for the arm to make it lighter, re-designed covers for the body that allow for easier battery access and - obviously - omniwheels in KUKA-orange.

KUKA will start delivery 1. Nov 2010 for Germany (1. Dec 2010 for Europe; 1. Mar 2011 for USA/Asia). Prices are EUR 19'990 (USD 24'200) for the complete robot. Arms are sold separately for EUR 12'990 (USD 15'700), the omni-directional base for EUR 8'990 (USD 10'900), with significant discounts (20-25%) for early birds and universities.

More photos:

 

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