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University Spinoff Company Commercializes Robotic Modules

iMobot module (Barobo Inc.)

iMobot module (Barobo Inc.)

A University of California at Davis engineering professor and former student have developed robot modules for teaching and research, and formed a company to take their invention to market. Davis professor Harry Cheng and former grad student Graham Ryland developed the iMobot, as their invention is called, while Ryland worked in Cheng’s Integration Engineering Laboratory.

The iMobot is an intelligent, reconfigurable robotic module assembly that the inventors hope can become a useful teaching and research tool. Ryland and Cheng say the technology could also be used in industrial applications for rapidly prototyping complex robotics systems. The university has filed a patent on the technology.

A single iMobot module has four controllable degrees of freedom, with two joints in the center section and two wheels, one on each end. An individual module can drive on its wheels, crawl like an inchworm, or raise one end of its body and pan around as a camera platform.

Individual modules could be assembled into larger robots for particular tasks, such as a snakelike robot that could get into confined spaces, or a larger, wheeled robot for smoother terrain.

Cheng and Ryland have formed a company, Barobo Inc., to develop the robot commercially. Ryland is the company’s president.

Barobo recently received a small-business innovation research grant from the National Science Foundation to begin commercial development. The initial grant is for $150,000 over six months, with the opportunity to apply for another $500,000. The inventors hope to have the robot on the market by the end of this year.

Read more: Small Business Robotics Research Grants Available

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