Record-Setting Robots Enter National Museum of American History
CREDIT: Randy Montoya
One of the first U.S. miniature robots ever built took up just one cubic inch of space when it debuted during the era of dialup Internet and clunky smartphones. 15 years later, it's now one of nine historic robots chosen to become permanent exhibits at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The band of robotic brethren includes the first battlefield scout robot, one of the first robots able to navigate the indoors by itself, and a hopping robot that can leap 20 feet into the air over walls. Such a diverse group grabbed the attention of curators at the Smithsonian Institute when they first inquired about Sandia's Miniature Autonomous Robotic Vehicles (MARV).
"The Smithsonian selected Sandia robots for inclusion after they researched the history of robotics and they found worldwide references, all pointing back to Sandia robotics as early pioneers," said Philip Heermann, senior manager of Sandia National Laboratories' intelligent systems, robotics and cybernetics.
MARV managed to stuff sensors, power, computers and controls all into its one cubic inch of space, but Sandia researchers created even tinier descendants less than one quarter cubic inch in 2001. The "superminiature robots" packed along miniature cameras, microphones and sensors as they scrambled through pipes or buildings to track human movement or chemical plumes.
Another spiritual descendant of MARV includes NETBOTS the size of remote-controlled toy cars. Such bots formed the largest teams of cooperative small robots ever developed for their time, with more than 20 vehicles per networked group. They too have received a place at the Smithsonian.
Sandia's robotics history goes beyond amazing shrinking robots . The Sandia Interior Robot (that's SIR to you) wowed Americans in 1985 as the first robot to navigate a building without preprogrammed pathways or floor wiring, and had the ability to do dirty, dangerous tasks such as disposing of radioactive waste or gathering military intelligence.
Sandia eventually unveiled the first battlefield scout robot in the form of Dixie in 1987. That robot didn't sport Terminator-style weapons , but it helped pioneer remote control of teleoperated vehicles. The U.S. military today deploys many such robots to help disable improvised explosives in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If some robots can do superhuman tasks, they might as well leap over small buildings as well. Sandia's Hopper represented the first robot powered by a combustion cylinder and piston foot, with a later wheeled version becoming the first hybrid hopping and wheeled mobile system. Its 20-foot leaping record was set in 2000.