The future of robots is pretty clearly mapped out in some areas. While the focus today is on man and machine working side by side, this is set to change in the medium term, as improving artificial intelligence and ever greater networking allow machines to become more independent. Initially limited to a strictly defined range of tasks, robots will start to tackle complex requirements, make their own decisions and learn how to react to unforeseen circumstances. Naturally, this makes them ideal for deployment in critical environments where people face the greatest risk to life and limb. Such environments can include natural disasters and industrial accidents, where it is crucial to get an accurate, up-to-date overview quickly and safely. However, it is also conceivable that robots could actively intervene by creating escape routes, securing hazardous substances or even retrieving the injured. That is precisely why the IOSB has developed the driverless digger BoB, which is on show for the first time at CeBIT 2017 in Hannover.
BoB is first and foremost a versatile demonstration and development system comprising autonomous vehicle and sensor probes, and has been designed to test scalable autonomy functions. The first task it has been set is to retrieve hazardous substances or excavate contaminated ground levels as independently as possible. BoB is capable of doing just that and can drive autonomously over rough terrain thanks to a toolbox of algorithms for localization, mapping, obstacle detection and movement planning. Additional networked sensor probes then come into play, creating a reliable image of the surroundings so that emergency workers have all the information they need to coordinate the steps that the autonomous robot systems have to execute. This approach should ensure that contamination can soon be cleared up without anyone having to enter the danger zone.