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Sample text

Infrared sensors gauge the distance to the obstacles and can also warn the robot if it’s heading toward a drop-off. Cobalt 2 stopped just shy of the wall, thwarting my destructive MAY 2004 intentions. The machine that iRobot plans to sell to businesses looks a little different from Cobalt 2. Called the CoWorker, it resembles a small bulldozer— it actually has a shovel for pushing objects out of its path. “It’s a robot with a hard hat,” Angle says. In addition to a video camera, the machine has a laser pointer and a robotic arm that remote users can manipulate.

A small window shows onscreen what the robot sees through its “eye” camera. Burick sets a model of the B9 robot from Lost in Space on the floor, and I turn the 912 to look at it. I click the “capture” button, and the machine adds it to a memorized list of objects that it can recognize. I back the 912 up, turn it around, and create a new behavior by checking a box here and making a menu selection there. Six clicks later I have taught it to speak a phrase whenever it sees the B9 toy. ” It is a trivial example of a powerful combination: easy-to-use software and easily customized hardware.

The half-meter-high robots look like R2-D2 droids that have been redesigned by Cadillac. Burick says that he spent a year honing their appearance, something almost unheard of in serious robotics, where function usually trumps form. To Burick, form is function, and it is very important that he get the design right the first time. This is his life’s dream, and it has consumed his life savings. “As a kid, I watched Lost in Space on TV and thought it was so fantastic that Will Robinson had this machine who protected him and was the best friend anyone could have,” he says, with boyish earnestness.

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