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Smart floor navigates smart service robots


Highly accurate navigation of mobile robots over long distances is no longer a problem today, given one is ready to pay the price for expensive sensor equipment. “The best available sensors for large scale navigation of mobile robots may easily cost several times as much as the manufacturing of a professional cleaning robot may cost.” says Dr. Erwin Prassler, CEO of InMach Intelligent Maschinen GmbH. The company located in Ulm, Germany, therefore focuses its business on the development of low-cost guidance systems for mobile service robots.

In a joint venture with German floor covering manufacturer Vorwerk Teppichwerke GmbH InMach has developed a low-cost guidance system for mobile service robots based on RFID technology. The guidance system uses the RFID transponders embedded in a so-called Smart Underlay developed by Vorwerk Teppichwerke. This Smart Underlay is a specially designed tissue containing a dense network of hundreds and thousands of RFID transponders. The Smart Underlay can be placed between the floor pavement of a building and almost any arbitrary floor covering. The transponders act as a sort of radio beacons, which show the robots their way. Unlike radio beacons they do not actively send out a signal, however. They only respond to signals with an electro-magnetic echo encoding a certain ID. Using the transponders, which can be arranged in an arbitrary pattern, the guidance system determines the position and orientation of a robot with a constant accuracy of a few centimeters and degrees, respectively; and this not only for a few meters but over arbitrary distances.

The advantage of this navigation solution lies not only in its constant accuracy but also in its economic efficiency. The additional cost caused by the deployment of a Smart Underlay under a regular floor covering are compensated by the significantly reduced cost for the robots’ sensor equipment and will amortize after a very short time.

The first application, in which InMach’s RFID based guidance system together with Vorwerk Teppichwerkes’ Smart Underlay is used, is a cleaning robot for professional use, which InMach has developed jointly with Swiss Cleanfix AG. This product is ready for mass manufacturing and will come to the market in fall 2006.

Prototypes of Vorwerk Teppichwerkes’ Smart Underlay and Cleanfix’s cleaning robot powered by InMach’s RFID based guidance system can be seen in action from March 9 to 15 at CeBIT 2006 in Exhibition Hall 9, Booth A60.


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