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Fetch Robotics Introduces Burly New Freight Robots

These strong mobile robots can haul just about anything

2 min read
Photo: Fetch Robotics

It’s a good sign for the robotics industry that more and more robotics companies are starting to make major announcements at specialized events and trade shows, indicating that their robots are ready for tough, real-world applications. This week at ProMat, “the premier showcase of material handling, supply chain, and logistics solutions,” Fetch Robotics is showing off two very new, and very large, stuff-transporting robots.

This video shows the Freight 500, which can handle 500 kilograms of payload, or generally something about the size of a “case,” which I guess is a standard unit in the area of “material handling, supply chain, and logistics solutions.” Another standard unit is a pallet, which is significantly bigger, so Fetch also designed the Freight 1500 to carry 1500 kg:

FreightFreight 1500 can handle 1500 kilograms of payload.Photo: Fetch Robotics

The Freight 1500 weighs just under 470 kg all by itself, but it’s only 35.5 centimeters (14 inches) tall, which is the same height as its smaller siblings. It has lidar sensors front and back, a forward-looking RGBD camera, and can run for up to 9 hours while recharging itself to 90 percent in just an hour. And most importantly, it has (almost) as many LEDs on it as anyone could ever want, presumably to help keep it from accidentally flounderizing you.

We should point out that Clearpath Robotics, or rather OTTO Motors, started out with a 1500 kg-class mobile robot in 2015, and followed it up with a 100 kg-class mobile robot about a year ago. Strictly in terms of payload, OTTO and Fetch are now closely matched, with Fetch’s 500 kg-class robot perhaps giving them the edge in versatility, at least for now.

FreightFetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise.Photo: Fetch Robotics

As always, though, the really tricky part about robots is in the software, not so much the hardware, points out Fetch CEO Melonee Wise: “In many ways the hardware is extremely similar,” she says. “It basically all comes down to the software, and how the differing sensors are used to autonomously navigate a facility.”

As much as I would love to see Fetch and OTTO’s beefcake robots battle it out in some sort of exciting and dramatic material handling and logistics competition (if such a thing could possibly exist), I would imagine that the market for intelligent robots that can move things safely is large enough to be able to feed Fetch, OTTO, and the handful of other robotics companies in the space right now.

[ Fetch Robotics ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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