iRobot’s uPoint App Lets Soldiers Control Military Robots with an Android Tablet

October 13, 2014 - Written By Peter Holden

For many people (of my generation), when you think of military robots you either think of the monstrous ED-109 from RoboCop or the cute and lovable Johnny Five from Short Circuit. They aren’t really representative of the current crop of functional military robots that are presently in service though. And unlike the Skynet system of the future from the Terminator films where the robots are controlled by a self-aware computer, the unmanned ground vehicles of today are controlled by an operator using a joystick and a monitor. Usually, the technician will have spent a few days training in order to become certified, but this is about to change thanks to iRobot’s new method of controlling its range of unmanned military and security robots.

The uPoint Multi-Robot Control (MRC) system allows the operator to control the robot simply via an Android tablet, and is said to be user-friendly enough to cut the training time down from days to minutes. The operator simply opens the uPoint app on the tablet, and is then able to access anything from tutorials to live camera fees that stream from the various robots to actually controlling a wide array of unmanned units. The uPoint software allows the user to put the robot in numerous pre-set poses, allowing the user to manoeuvre robots to its destinations. It also lets the operator use the robot to perform various functions such as removing abandoned suitcases, open car doors or inspect buildings for insurgents or explosive devices to name just a few.

As you can see from the gallery above, the uPoint software looks easy enough to use, having guide markers on the screen to help the operator guide the robot through challenging terrain. The operator simply drags a finger-tip on the screen to steer the robot in a specific direction, it’s also possible to simply tap on a location for the robot to ‘drive’ itself to. The uPoint system allows the operator to access everything on the one display, there are no hidden menus thanks to the ‘flatness’ of the interface. The ‘flat’ interface means less frustration and aggravation when operating the unit in a live situation. The uPoint system connects with other robots, team members or remote observers via the uPoint Robot Radio, offering improved communications that allow the robot device to travel deeper inside structures than before. The communications system also searches for intruders on its network, and in case of jamming it is frequency agile, meaning that it can jump frequencies and thus keep in contact with the home team. Video evidence captured by the built-in camera can be sent directly to the cloud, and other more mundane tasks such as accessing files or checking email can be performed on the tablet.

From the video below, it looks like a really simply system to use, and shows that despite appearances, there are advances in robotics happening all the time. So this is yet another example of the versatility of the Android operating system. What other fields would you like to see the Power of Android innovating? As always, let us know in the comments or at our Google Plus page.