By Joanna Carver/Public Affairs Specialist
Who hasn’t looked at a Roomba™ and thought they could improve on it? UTSA student Patrick Benavidez, who just completed his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, went the extra mile and turned one into a device that can make the lives of the elderly or disabled a little easier.
Benavidez worked in the UTSA Autonomous Control Engineering (ACE) Laboratory under the supervision of professor Mo Jamshidi over the course of two years to develop the robot, which is made from a Roomba™, which is an automated device that cleans floors, an XBOX Kinect and 3-D printed pieces.
Part of his inspiration came from the fact that Roombas™ have great potential, but don’t always work as well as they could.
“One thing that typical home robots like the Roomba™ have issues with is with bigger objects on the floor,” Benavidez said. “So if there’s a sock on the floor, the Roomba™ tries to eat it, and then sits there, gets stalled and has to quit because of a simple thing like a sock on the floor.”
The solution was to create an arm with a claw that could pick up the object the Roomba™ encounters. For this, Benavidez designed and 3-D printed the necessary pieces and attached them to the Roomba™. When not in use, the arm wraps around itself.
“It still cleans, it still does its job,” he said. “Now, giving it these new features just really takes it to another level, where it can help someone who might not have the ability to retrieve that sock, or a pill bottle or a pair of glasses.”
The robot can be remote controlled, but because of the re-purposed XBOX Kinect it also has skeleton tracking. This means the device can detect a person in the room and bring them the object it’s just picked up.
Benavidez’s robot is part of a larger project to build devices that can help the disabled or elderly. He’s also working on a motorized walker with fellow ACE Laboratory student Eric Wineman.