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IT & Systems Management

Unbounded Robotics launches robot platform for education, research

If you fear the rise of robots, the latest humanoid-style machine has an "emergency stop to prevent robot apocalypse."

That tongue-in-cheek feature belongs to UBR-1, which has been launched by California startup Unbounded Robotics.

The robot is aimed at a variety of applications in research and education. With a price tag of US$50,000, it's a relatively cheap "mobile manipulation platform," as Unbounded describes it.

The startup has compared the UBR-1 to an iPhone without any third-party apps -- essentially a platform for developers.

"Our robot can be used in a wide variety of applications; really anything that involves manipulation and repetition," CEO Melonee Wise said in an email interview.

"We see a great deal of potential in service robotics, particularly as the boundaries between industrial and personal robotics continue to erode."

The machine can move around and interact with the environment using its one arm. The arm has seven joints, and can move along seven axes of motion. Its pincer-like manipulator can grasp objects weighing up to 1.5 kg.

The UBR-1 has a Hokuyo UST-20LX 2D laser scanner to help avoid objects as it moves around, a Primesense 3D sensor as well as cameras and microphones.

The 73 kg, wheeled robot can move at a top speed of 1 meter per second and its battery can last three to five hours when it's in continuous operation. When it runs out of juice, it will self-dock into a recharging unit, which works off a standard household power supply.

The UBR-1 runs on the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS), which was developed at California-based Willow Garage, of which Unbounded is a spinoff.

The robot inherits much of the design and functionality of Willow Garage's $280,000 beer-fetching PR2 robot, which has been used by robotics researchers at various universities.

Last week, Google was one of several investors that contributed to a $2 million seed financing package for Savioke, another Willow Garage spinoff. Savioke said it plans to produce a robot that can work in places such as nursing homes and hospitals.

Unbounded is taking pre-orders for the UBR-1, which will initially ship in August to customers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The company said it is looking for distributors in Asia, Australia and Europe.

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