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36.2 Movement Algorithms
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Coming up with an algorithm for your robot to move about the room could be the most challenging aspect of designing a home robot. Humans take for granted the ability to move through rooms, but it is extremely difficult to come up with different ways of programming a robot to do so effectively. The problem gets more complex when the robot has to do something in the room such as find a location within the room or even come up with a way of cleaning it. The point of cleaning the room is brought up because of the difficulty roboticists at iRobot (the company that designed the Roomba) had in coming up with an algorithm that would maximize the amount of the room that would be vacuumed by their robot. The algorithm chosen is shown graphically in Fig. 36-2. The robot starts out with a spiral pattern until it comes in contact with one of the room s walls. From here, it then follows the wall until it is sure that it has covered the entire perimeter of the room. When the perimeter has been cleaned, the robot then begins moving back and forth throughout the room in a random pattern. After some period of time (many minutes), the robot restarts the spiral pattern and the algorithm repeats itself.
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HOME ROBOTS AND HOW NOT TO CHEW UP YOUR FURNITURE
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FIGURE 36-2 The iRobot Roomba vacuum robot room-cleaning algorithm. a. The robot starts with a spiral pattern until it comes in contact with a wall. b. After colliding with the wall, the robot follows the perimeter of the room. c. It stays inside the room by not violating an infrared barrier. d. It determines that it has cleaned the room s perimeter. e. It begins to move randomly throughout the room, vacuuming as it goes. f. After moving randomly, the process repeats with the robot starting out at some random point in the room with the robot making another spiral pattern.
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This algorithm works quite well for the application and could conceivably clean the entire floor of a home if it were allowed to run long enough. Of course, it could take days for the robot to move randomly into each room and stay there until they are all vacuumed. It must be recognized that there are situations (such as the chair leg noted in the previous section) that will make the Roomba s room-cleaning algorithm much less efficient. Moving from room to room in a purposeful manner is difficult and will most likely require the IR or RF beacons in each room mentioned elsewhere for the robot to determine where it is and where it must go. With the beacons, the task of navigating becomes more of an IT problem rather than a robotics problem as the path through the house must consist of sorting the beacons of specific rooms along with the adjacent rooms, leading to the final destination. For example, a robot that finds itself in the Master Bedroom and has to go to the Main Bathroom would have to figure out the complete set of beacons to pass by. Using the beacons defined in Table 36-1, the sequence would be: 3 to 5 to 2 to 6
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36.3 COMMUNICATING WITH THE ROBOT
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Sample Beacon Layout for a Home BEACON NUMBER 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ADJACENT BEACONS 2, 5, 10 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 5, 4 5 1, 3, 2 2 2 2 2 1
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When the robot finds itself in a room with a different beacon, it will have to reverse course, return to a room that is on the course, and try to find the next one in the sequence. The final issue that you will have to contend with is stairs. Stairs are very difficult to climb and descend and discovering a way to do so efficiently is one of the Holy Grails of robotics. It is not difficult to design a set of large, knobby wheels that can move up a set of stairs. They generally work best when the robot is exactly perpendicular to the stairs. The problem with climbing stairs is twofold; the first is approaching the stairs at exactly 90 degrees. Even a couple of degrees off will cause the robot to lose its footing and potentially fall down or topple. To make matters worse, many houses have stairs that are irregular as shown in Fig. 36-3. In each of these cases, either the angle the robot approaches the steps changes or the steps are encountered at different times, which the robot cannot automatically accommodate, leading to it toppling or falling.
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