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Mystery Robot To Be Officially Unveiled May 11

We can't tell you much about this robot, except that come May 11, you might really, really want one

1 min read

UPDATE: Mystery robot revealed! Learn everything about it here.

At RoboGames last weekend, we got a sneak peak at that mysterious new robot that's been churning through the rumor mill for the last month or so. We can't tell you everything about it, not yet, but we can tell you SOME things... Enough things to subtly suggest that this robot could have a significant place in your home in the near future.

First, an exclusive teaser video:

Now, you should understand that this robot isn't designed to be a fancy, futuristic new platform. Really, it's fairly simple: it's got a beefy computer in the base, a big battery that lets it run for eight hours, an 8" touchscreen, and a bunch of USB expansion ports. And of course, it's open source, so you can write your own apps for it.

What makes this robot different is that it's 1.5 meters [5 feet] tall, which is tall enough for you to interact with naturally, and relative to other robots this size, and it's affordable for regular people without corporate funding or grant money -- think mid-range laptop in price. So just imagine all of those handy things that your computer can do for you right now, and then imagine how many other handy things your computer could do for you if it could move around and interact with its environment like this robot obviously can.

For the moment, you'll have to just have to keep using your imagination as to exactly what this robot will be capable of, but we'll have more details (all the details) for you on May 11th.

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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
LightGreen

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

"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.

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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