Cisco develops mobile robots for wireless connectivity

Prototype box-shaped robots introduced as part of Cisco's 'Information on the move' initiative

Cisco has developed a set of small smart robots, which can act as wireless communications relays, that sense when a mobile user is moving out of service range, and can follow the user to maintain connectivity.

Cisco talked about the prototype box-shaped robots at this week's Military Technologies Conference in Boston.

According to Dave Buster, product marketing manager for the Cisco Global Government Solutions Group, the robots can follow a user almost anywhere to maintain connectivity. Published reports said the robots were part of Cisco's "Information on the move" initiative -- a wide-ranging plan to secure all things wireless.

"Cisco will probably never market that software, but we might make it available to partners who might want to put it on a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle]," Buster told the conference.

Whether or not the systems has an enterprise application, it is of interest to the military and initiatives such as the Army's Future Combat Systems, which uses a variety of advanced systems to achieve battleground superiority. A wireless robot such as this could play a part in the communications of those systems, experts say.

These sorts of smart robots have been gaining much attention lately. The University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute recently showed off Superbots, robots are made up of identical modular units that plug into one another to create robots that can stand, crawl, wiggle and roll.

The robots are being developed mainly to carry out multiple complex tasks, such as assembly, inspection, maintenance, habitat construction, surface landing, and exploration in space and on planet surfaces. Perhaps their paramount feature is flexibility: The different modules can be connected to let a robot handle a variety of tasks, rather than have that robot dedicated to a single task. The traditional approach of building separate robots for separate tasks is no longer adequate for affordable space exploration, researchers said.

The Superbot project will be built on the first spiral of the development completed in the last decade with small-scale, Earth oriented, self-reconfigurable prototype robots by the proposing team, with total support of more than US$8 million from DARPA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation and NASA.

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Michael Cooney

Network World

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