Robotics for simple tasks?
March 16, 2015 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Any suggestions for a commercially available robot that could perform simple delivery tasks?

I have a family member who is severely disabled, i.e. confined to a bed or couch just about all the time. It would be helpful to have a small device that could deliver small things to her, such as a cell phone or a glass. I was thinking of the Big Trak from my childhood, but that seems to be the province of collectors now. The Recon 6.0 is a more recent form of that, readily available online. But neither of those is something a disabled person could call remotely. You could set it up for them and they could send something away, but they couldn't call it to come to them if they needed it. The answer here may just be that it's more of a custom build or more demanding than you'd find off the self, but I thought I'd ask the collective whether anyone with similar aims had found success.

(Also, Arduino projects seem less feasible without fixed tracks, which are not themselves feasible in our case.)
posted by el_lupino to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think that this may be pretty hard to do, not in the least place because even if you have a device that can come when called, and bring something over, it would first need to get the object.
If that means that the object would need to be placed on top of the device beforehand, surely it would be easier to just place it near her?
Sorry to rain on your parade, but just making sure you've thought of this aspect of the problem.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:44 PM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've seen Double telepresence robots pop up in business contexts recently, but I'm not sure they (or any passive sort of 'robot' or RC vehicle) would be that useful without some kind of manipulator that can grab and carry objects.
posted by BrandonW at 2:45 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds difficult, but could you specify the requirements a little more? Does it need to just have a tray or something like that, or an arm for grabbing?

Can the family member operate a remote control or do they need a fully autonomous system?

Depending on your responses to these questions, you could use a small, slow R/C vehicle and mount a tray on top, along with a wireless video camera hooked up to a monitor. Maybe something with treads like a tank so it can rotate in place. Like this or this

If you need autonomous, you're either looking at expensive stuff or homebrewed stuff. A robot that moves automatically on a set route isn't that hard, but it's hardly an off-the-shelf product.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:52 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a service dog sort of job, is there a reason that's out of the question? They're probably not going to be able to carry a glass without spilling it, but that's what bottles are for.
posted by contraption at 2:55 PM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The iRobot Create 2 might be a good platform to start with, if you're up for trying to build something. It's not terribly expensive, and (I believe) it knows how to return to the base station for charging (but you should check me on this before putting any money into it).

Of course, it has "little" issues like I don't think it will handle stairs, I'm not even sure how well it will handle carpet, it's pretty low to the ground, etc.

iRobot also has their AVA platform, which looks somewhat sturdier but I have no idea what it would cost.

All that said, I've pondered that some kind of tracked system that hung from the ceiling might have a lot of advantages. But outside of something in a movie, I've never seen anyone attempting to sell such a thing for home use.
posted by doctor tough love at 3:18 PM on March 16, 2015

Response by poster: I think the demands may be a little lower than I led others to believe. I wasn't suggesting that the machine *retrieve* anything. More that you could leave something in it, which it would transport back and forth. So you might call it, leave a glass or something in it, and it then goes back a starting point in, say, the kitchen.

The iRobot is probably the closest thing so far.

(Service dog isn't really a viable option in our case for a number of reasons. It's a long story.)
posted by el_lupino at 4:04 PM on March 16, 2015

Does it need to be autonomous? There may be radio controlled "toys" that could be extended to be a remote delivery device if the user can run a joystick. Perhaps look at the r/c tank kits and just use the base, heavy, slow and steady but with the power to carry something like a heavy book.
posted by sammyo at 4:41 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering if what you really want is a system a little like a robotic tape library, where things are stored until needed then retrieved by command. Or a more specialized setup where you might have a water dispenser and a cup that could be placed in it by robotic arm, then retrieved and handed to the person.

There are restaurant and bar systems that are a bit off the shelf, but obviously expensive, and still depend heavily on human interaction.
posted by dhartung at 5:20 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: sammyo: autonomy is not at all important, though responsiveness would be a plus. If you just want something that can follow a path to carry something, the two toys I mention above would do that. But they'd require a second person (me) to stand there and start the cycle. Some RC toys might fit that bill, though I don't know whether they tend to have remote starters or not.

dhartung: some of that might work, but it would also sound kind of task-specific, and flexibility might be preferable if needs changed.
posted by el_lupino at 9:26 PM on March 16, 2015

Oh, one other thought: I don't believe it's been released yet, but the Amazon Echo might be worth a look, for use as a voice controller.

It also occurs to me that if you've got kids in the neighborhood that you can trust, you could maybe set up the equivalent of the little "butler's bell" on a smart phone, pay 'em a couple of bucks per errand. This could cost some money, but - so could a robot. Plus there are misc intangible benefits (human contact, building good will with the neighbor kids) and it'd probably still cost less than a home healthcare provider.
posted by doctor tough love at 10:07 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

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