The University Record, July 6, 1993

CARMEL and BORIS move boxes, even fetch coffee

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

Two U-M robots—a Cybermotion K2A robot named CARMEL and a TRC Labmate named BORIS—will dodge obstacles, move boxes and fetch coffee as they compete against robots from 13 other universities and corporations in the Artificial Intelligence Robotics Competition and Exhibition, July 13–15, at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

Last July, CARMEL and a team of

U-M engineering students won the annual robotics competition, which is sponsored by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).

“This year, the events are more difficult and require more advance planning,” says U-M research programmer Frank Ross. “In some events, robots must communicate with each other and work together to solve tasks.”

CARMEL’s sidekick in this year’s competition is BORIS (Box Organizing Robotic Intelligent System). U-M students and staff named the robot and developed the vision and communications software BORIS and CARMEL will use in the AAAI competition.

This year’s contest focuses on using mobile robots in office environments. The first event, “Escape from the Office,” is an obstacle avoidance task for a single robot placed in an unfamiliar office with three doors. After the judges open one of the doors, CARMEL must detect that the door is open, pass through the door and move across a larger room to the finish line. “This event plays to CARMEL’s strengths and we don’t believe it will be a problem for us,” Koss says.

Event No. 2, “Blocks-world stacking,” is another story. In this event, BORIS must locate cardboard boxes, and slide the boxes into a specific pattern identified by the judges just before the competition begins.

“Maneuvering and turning the boxes is what makes this event difficult,” explains research programmer Patrick Kenny. After several experiments with electromagnets and Velcro, the U-M team has opted for the low-technology solution—equipping BORIS with a metal bar that snags coat hanger hooks taped to the boxes, allowing BORIS to pull them into position.

In Event No. 3, “Office Delivery,” CARMEL will compete alone and also with BORIS to explore an unfamiliar area, find a coffee pot sitting on a cardboard box, and then return to the delivery area. Extra points will be awarded if the robot can actually bring the coffee pot to the delivery area.

CARMEL, which moves at a maximum speed of about 2.5 feet per second, uses 24 ultrasonic sensors to detect and avoid collisions. The robot was manufactured by Cybermotion Inc. of Roanoke, Va. Johann Borenstein, assistant research scientist, and Yoram Koren, professor of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics, developed CARMEL’s ultrasonic avoidance sensing system with funding support from the U.S. Department of Energy.

BORIS moves at a top speed of three feet per second and uses a partial ring of 12 sonar sensors to avoid collisions. BORIS was manufactured by Transitions Research Corp. of Danbury, Conn.

To meet the requirements of the AAAI competition, a team of 20 students and two staff researchers developed new software and vision capability and equipped both robots with on-board computers, video cameras and sound boards to allow the robots to “talk” to the audience.

U-M computer science and engineering students accompanying CARMEL and BORIS to the competition include graduate students Dave Kortenkamp, Marc Huber, Kevin Mangis, Jaeho Lee and Annie Wu. Undergraduates on the robotics team include Alex Ramos, William Belding and Roy Feague.

The project was funded with support from the U.S. Department of Energy, the College of Engineering, Environmental Research Institute of Michigan, the NTN Technical Center of Ann Arbor, and the American Association for Artificial Intelligence.