May 27, 2015      

Two robotics companies have teamed up to join mobility and manipulation for research. Clearpath Robotics Inc. said at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle yesterday that its Ridgeback is intended for heavy payloads, including Rethink Robotics Inc.’s Baxter.

“Many of our customers have approached us looking for a way to use Baxter for mobile manipulation research,” said Julian Ware, general manager for research products at Kitchener, Ontario-based Clearpath. “The platform is designed so that Baxter can plug into Ridgeback and go.”

Ridgeback’s integration features include built-in Ethernet, USB 3.0, RS 232, voltage inverters, and a standard x86 processor. Not only is the base unit customizable; it be also built to order for specific systems, said Clearpath. The company makes robots designed to operate outdoors, but Ridgepath is designed to be operated indoors.

Clearpath Robotics' Ridgeback mobile platform

Clearpath’s Ridgeback comes with wheels and can carry different payloads.

The automated guided vehicle’s (AGV) rugged chassis and drivetrain can support up to 100 kg (220 lb.), including Rethink’s Baxter, Universal Robotics’ UR 10, or other payloads. Ridgeback also has an onboard x86 processor, a laser, and a gyroscope. It weighs 125 kg (275 lb.), can move at 2.5 mph, and can run for eight hours after being charged for about five.

Ridgeback’s four “omnidirectional,” independently driven wheels allow it to maneuver in tight spaces with three degrees of freedom, allowing for “unrestrained path and algorithm planning,” said Clearpath. The “Mechanum” wheels are important, said Ware, because they allow “the robot to make small lateral corrections without having to back away from a table, re-localize, then reposition itself.”

Rolling research

The AGV supports the open-source Robot Operating System and is intended to integrate easily with sensors and the Baxter collaborative robot. Ridgeback’s visualization and simulation support — such as an end-to-end software stack — enables organizations “to start doing interesting research right out of the box,” said Ware.

“Ridgeback is similar to our other platforms in that it is designed to be rugged, user-friendly, compatible with ROS, and extensible (meaning it’s easy to integrate equipment on to the platform),” Ware said in an e-mail to Robotics Business Review. “Ridgeback differs in that it’s designed to specifically support large payloads in an indoor environment.”

“Giving Baxter automated mobility opens up a world of new research possibilities,” said Brian Benoit, senior product manager at Boston-based Rethink Robotics. “Researchers can now use Baxter and Ridgeback for a wide range of applications where mobility and manipulation are required, including service robotics, tele-operated robotics, and human-robot interaction.”

Clearpath launched Ridgeback in response to many research customers that wanted a mobile manipulation solution for Baxter and other industrial manipulators, said Ware. “Interest in the platform is quite strong; a number of our academic customers have already included the Rigdeback in their grant proposals,” he said.

The mobile platform could be used with Baxter in a warehouse or order-fulfillment environment, but as Ware noted, “the current iteration is designed primarily with the research community in mind.”

Ridgeback costs between $35,000 and $40,000, depending on integration and customization options.