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Dexterous mobile robot runs Linux and ROS

Oct 21, 2013 — by Eric Brown 1,582 views

A Willow Garage spinoff called Unbounded Robotics announced a mobile manipulation robot designed for research and business automation and due to ship next summer for $35,000. The UBR-1 runs Ubuntu Linux and Robot Operating System (ROS) on a 4th Generation Intel Core processor, has a 7 degrees-of-freedom arm with a dexterous gripper, and moves at speeds up to 1 meter per second.

Seven months before much of the staff and resources of open source robot firm Willow Garage were acquired in August by Suitable Technologies, which recently launched the Beam mobile telepresence robot, several of Willow Garage’s key developers left to start Unbounded Robotics. These include Unbounded Robotics CEO Melonee Wise, who was the chief developer of the PR2, the similar flagship robot of Willow Garage. The company is unveiling its first product, the UBR-1, later this week at the RoboBusiness show in Santa Clara, Calif. The robot will open for pre-orders soon, starting at $35,000, with shipments expected next summer.

Unbounded Robotics UBR-1
(click images to enlarge)


The price may seem high, but it’s actually fairly modest compared to similar dexterous manipulation robots of its caliber, and it’s about a tenth the cost of the Willow Garage PR2. The PR2 ran solely on ROS, the open source robotic platform developed by Willow Garage, which has been widely adopted in the robotics research and hobbyist communities in recent years. Like Suitable’s Beam robot, the UBR-1 adds Ubuntu Linux to the mix. The combination of ROS and Linux (typically Ubuntu) has been a growing trend in robotics.


The UBR-1 is far more similar to the PR2 than is the Beam, which is a much simpler — and at $16,000, cheaper — video-conferencing station on wheels. Like the Beam, the UBR-1 moves around on wheels, but like the PR2, it offers an arm and gripper. Its dexterity is such that it’s “capable of being deployed in business automation scenarios,” in addition to its main role as a research platform for robotics. The only specific applications mentioned for this indoors, ADA-compliant robot suggest a homier role: “unloading a dishwasher, fetching beverages, or setting the dinner table.”

While the PR2 is still the more advanced robotics platform in many ways, the brain of the UBR-1 is more sophisticated than the PR2, and not just because it runs Linux. The computer is built on a faster Intel Core processor: the latest “Haswell” 4th Generation i5 for the $35,000 UBR-1 and an i7 for the more advanced UBR-1S (pricing unavailable).

UBR-1 features
(click image to enlarge)


The UBR-1 ships with 8GB (UBR-1) or 16GB (UBR-1S) of RAM, and features a solid-state drive (SSD) with 120GB or 240GB of capacity, once again depending on the model. An Ethernet port is provided, along with a DisplayPort and three USB 3.0 ports. One of the ports is located on the top of the robot’s head and is accompanied with mounting points for expansion peripherals. USB also controls the built-in speaker, and a microphone is available as well. A mini-PCIe card provides both WiFi and Bluetooth.

The initial UBR-1 robot lacks an integrated video camera, although presumably a simple one could be added via USB. Instead, the robot’s eyes are actually a pair of Carmine 1.09 short-range 3D sensors from Primesense. There’s also a Hokuyo UTM-30LX base laser used for navigation. An IMU measurement sensor helps the base and gripper achieve greater accuracy.

Standing at 86.5cm (34 inches), the 73 kg UBR-1 can achieve a maximum height of 132cm (52 inches) with help of a vertical riser mechanism. The robot can reach the ground as well as countertops, says Unbounded Robotics.

The UBR-1 offers 13-DOF, including the 7-DOF arm, plus base, torso lift, gripper, and pan tilt head movements. The base drivetrain can run at 0.75 m/s (29.3 in/s) on the UBR-1 or 1.0 m/s (39 in/s) on the UBR-1S, says the company.

The 7-DOF arm is said to carry up to 1.5 kg and stretch over 75cm, or about 30 inches. The gripper has less than half the grasp force of the PR2, at 30N, and it can move at 9 cm/s. The UBR-1’s battery lasts 3-5 hours in continual operation or 10 hours on standby, says the company. A charging station takes 3.5 hours to reach 90 percent charge, and the robot is programmed to return to the station automatically in between tasks or when power is running low.

The UBR-1 will ship with several pre-installed ROS applications, including MoveIt, navigation, calibration, and joystick teleoperation apps. No hardware configuration is required at start-up, says the company. The robot can be controlled remotely via WiFi, or users can log in with ssh to program it directly for best algorithm performance.

No more development details were provided for the ROS and Linux side of the equation. However, the company suggests that like the PR2, the UBR-1 will be an open, extensible, community-backed platform.

Specifications listed for the UBR-1 and higher-end UBR-1S include:

  • Processor — Intel 4th Gen. (“Haswell”) Core i5 (UBR-1) or i7 (UBR-1S)
  • Memory — 8GB (UBR-1) or 16GB (UBR-1S) RAM
  • Storage — 120GB (UBR-1) or 240GB (UBR-1S) SSD
  • Wireless — WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (802.15.1) via mini-PCIe card
  • Networking — Ethernet port (type unspecified)
  • Other I/O — 3x USB 3.0 ports (1x top-mounted with mount points for expansion); DisplayPort
  • Sensors:
    • 2D laser scanner — Hokuyo URG-04LX-UG01 (UBR-1) or UTM-30LX (UBR-1S) with 180-degree field of view
    • RGB-D sensor and stereo mic — Primesense Carmine 1.09 with 0.35m to 1.4m range, pan and tilt
    • Base/gripper IMU — 6-DOF (about 4g, 500 degrees/s)
  • Arm
    • Backdriveable, 7-DOF
    • 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) payload at full extension
    • 75.56cm (29.75-in.) length
    • speed — 1.0 m/s (39 in/s)
  • Gripper:
    • 9 cm/s (3.54 in/s) grasp speed
    • 30N (6.74 lbs) grasp force
    • 9 cm (3.54 in.) max. grasp opening
    • 0.5 kg (1.1 lbs) weight
    • Interchangeable fingertips
    • 24V, 1A max gripper power
    • RS485 gripper modularity interface communication
  • Drivetrain:
    • Differential base with drop suspension
    • Drive speed — 0.75 m/s (29.3 in/s) on UBR-1; 1 m/s (39 in/s) on UBR-1S
  • Other features — emergency stop button; ADA-compliant; vertical riser (14 inch height differential)
  • Battery — 3-5 hours in continual operation or 10 hours on standby; 3.5 hours charge time (to 90%) via standard power supply; self-docking for recharge
  • Weight — 73 kg (160 lbs)
  • Dimensions — 49.5cm (base) by 86.5cm (min. height) or 132.0cm (max. height via riser)
  • Operating system — Ubuntu Linux; ROS

The video below, from Unlimited Robotics, offers a brief demo of the UBR-1’s features and capabilities.

Unlimited Robotics UBR-1 demo video


The UBR-1 will be available for pre-order “soon” at prices starting at $35,000. Shipments are expected in summer 2014. More information, including a video, and quote requests may be found at the Unbounded Robotics website. The UBR-1 will be demo’d at RoboBusiness 2013 Oct. 23-25 in Santa Clara, Calif.

(advertise here)

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