RoboBusiness 2013: A Robot to Carry Your Stuff

Budgee follows you around with a basket so that you'll never have to carry anything ever again

1 min read
RoboBusiness 2013: A Robot to Carry Your Stuff

Sometimes all it takes to make something successful is a simple solution to a simple problem. At RoboBusiness 2013, Five Elements Robotics demonstrated prototypes of a little robot called Budgee that can follow you around while carrying your stuff for you. That's all it does, but that's all it needs to do to be pretty darn useful.

Budgee is just about as simple as a robot of this size can get. It's got two wheels and holds a basket, and will autonomously drive after you while you walk around, whether you're shopping, out at the park, or doing anything else. It doesn't have any sort of fancy vision or navigation systems or anything like that. Instead, you slip a small ultrasonic pinger into your pocket, which the robot homes in on:

You can talk to the robot using an app on your phone, and set basic parameters like follow distance (and eye color!). Budgee can hold up to 22 kilograms (50 pounds) of whatever you like in a basket equipped with some sort of locking mechanism, and when you're done, the 'bot folds up into a package that somehow weighs just a little over 2 kilograms (5 pounds). Also included are a bump sensor and cliff sensors, but otherwise, that's the entire robot. Like we said, simple and straightforward.

As much as we like this idea, we're a little bit concerned about the $1,400 asking price. Five Elements is targeting a mid-November Kickstarter launch, and we're looking forward to a bunch more details when it goes live.

[ Five Elements Robotics ]

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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

“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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