Street-cleaning robots

Mobile autonomous robots that collaborate and perform a range of work from street cleaning and rubbish collection to accompanying elderly people are being developed in Europe.

The new generation of robots are part of the European DUSTBOT research project under the remit of the VI European Framework Programme.

The robots were recently introduced by the Spanish TECNALIA Technological Corporation at the Euskotren’s rail station in Atxuri, Bilbao.

At the station it was demonstrated how two robots models known as DustCart and the DustClean could be used to clean surfaces in open and closed areas. The DustCart robot, measuring 1.45m high and 70kg in weight, has a humanoid form and is designed to interact with the user and for the collection of low-demand waste. The DustClean robot, in the form of a small vehicle and measuring 96cm high and weighing 250kg, cleans streets of dirt and dust.

Iñaki Inzunza, director of the business unit at the TECNALIA Technological Corporation, said: ‘These robots are the solution for cleaning areas of difficult access and for the collection of rubbish at the very front door of, above all, persons who have mobility problems when moving the rubbish to the communal waste containers.’

TECNALIA has been responsible for leading the development of locating, navigation and obstacle-avoidance technology for the robots. The group has also worked on the planning algorithms and correction of trajectories.

Mercedes Ferros, director of the project, explained this was accomplished by combining infrared sensors, ultrasound and a laser scanner. With this, she said, ‘the perimeter of the robot is controlled and thus its trajectory corrected if necessary’.

This sensor technology of infrared sensors, ultrasound and a laser scanner was applied to detect obstacles. GPRS and ultrasound sensors were used for determining location. Nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide sensors were applied for controlling the quality of air.

To communicate with the robots, wireless systems were used between the sensors and the various modules (quality of air, locating, navigation, obstacle avoidance) that communicate using CAN with the supervisor PC in each robot. The robots are able to communicate among themselves with an Intelligent Ambience nucleus, a WLAN network via ad-hoc mode and Bluetooth connection.

The DUSTBOT project, which initiated in December 2006, also includes Italian groups Scuola Superiore Sant’ Anna, RoboTech srl, Midra, Synapsis, Örebro University of Sweden, HW Communication of the UK, and Swiss groups the Lucerne School of Engineering and Architecture and the Haute Ecole d’ingénieur et de Gestion Vaud.