GeckoSystems advances sensor fusion technologies due to elder care robot trials

Conyers 29 April 2010GeckoSystems International Corporation has incorporated numerous improvements to their suite of "Mobile Robot Solutions for Safety, Security, and Service" due to insights gained from their ongoing, world's first elder care robot trials. The company has also performed an on site visit of Sparton Corporation's Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) in Brooksfield, Florida. GeckoSystems is a dynamic expert in the emerging Mobile Service Robot industry revolutionizing their development and usage with "Mobile Robot Solutions for Safety, Security, and Service".


Sparton EMS offers a new prototyping service for electronic assemblies that provides customers several benefits, including time and cost savings, with increased flexibility. Their service provides a stand-alone, dedicated pilot line and engineering lab that offers a means of manufacturing and testing multiple aspects of a customer's existing or newly designed electronic assemblies before it is mass produced. Sparton's new capabilities are compatible with Proof-of-Concept (PoC) prototypes, where product design is still evolving, and Production-Ready (PR) prototypes, where final testing or certifications are the last step prior to full production.

"Sparton's new rapid prototyping service offers our customers direct access to production line equipment, manufacturing engineers, and manufacturing assets during the design cycle", stated Gene Vigilante, director, Engineering Services, Sparton Corporation. "The prototyping service doesn't timeshare with other production lines, but rather allows our customers access to a fully production-compatible line assembly, dedicated to PoC and PR prototypes, which significantly increases probability of first-time design success and shortens the product's time to market."

"After returning from my visit to Sparton Medical in early February of this year, we realized their focus was on high end medical diagnostic equipment with relatively small batch sizes. Since we consider Sparton to be a first tier contract manufacturer, we are now pleased to be visiting their volume manufacturing facility in Florida. Sparton EMS is highly connected to its Pacific Rim manufacturing plant in Vietnam. With low cost touch labour available to us in Asia by way of Sparton EMS, we are very excited about our upcoming review of their facility", reflected Mark Peele, Vice President, R&D, GeckoSystems.

"We will be taking our key people on this upcoming trip and demonstrating a couple of our advanced prototype personal companion robots, the CareBot to them. It has been our experience that most electronic contract manufacturers, after reviewing our bill of materials (BOM) and seeing a physical prototype, believe they can ramp up to producing 1000 CareBots per month within four to six months of inception."

"Our ongoing world's first in home elder care robot trials have been proceeding since early December with several expected confirmations of genuine utility and some unexpected family benefits emerging. Given that we are anticipating pent up demand in the elder care marketplace, identifying manufacturers with this capability and confidence is of considerable importance to us. We expect our focus on this kind of critical strategic business planning and execution to increase ROI for our shareholders", concluded Martin Spencer, President/CEO, GeckoSystems.

Sparton Corporation, now in its 110th year, is a provider of complex and sophisticated electromechanical devices with capabilities that include concept development, industrial design, design and manufacturing engineering, production, distribution, and field service to technology-driven companies in the medical device, defense & security systems, and electronic manufacturing services markets. Headquartered in Schaumburg, Illinois, Sparton currently has four manufacturing locations worldwide.

"When we embarked on this world's first real world evaluation of personal companion robots and their benefits to families, we expected to learn a great deal as to the robustness of our technologies. And we have", observed Martin Spencer, President/CEO, GeckoSystems.

"Since moving into our new R&D lab the first of this year and hiring additional engineers and programmers, we have solved numerous technical issues that have become apparent since beginning these trials in GeckoScheduler, GeckoTrak, GeckoChat, GeckoSuper, and to a limited degree, GeckoNav", reflected Mark Peele, Vice President, R&D, GeckoSystems.

GeckoSystems has discussed the "sound quality" upgrades to GeckoChat to better enable a more deaf than realized elderly participant to understand the CareBot's synthesized voice when delivering medication reminders, family anecdotes, etc. to express valued family behaviours. GeckoScheduler was completely reworked to enhance its flexibility and ease of use. It is now a standalone GeckoSavant, instead of being a portion of GeckoChat. GeckoTrak is now more reliable in its ability to automatically - without human intervention - find and/or follow the designated care receiver. And the GeckoSuper is now more efficient and timely in its management of the various GeckoSavants under its purview.

This new type of modern eldercare will postpone, if not eliminate, many elderly persons from having to endure the loneliness and loss of independence due to leaving their own homes and living in nursing homes and other assisted living facilities. Their families can now better manage the difficult decisions regarding independence they allow their now dependent aged parent while minimizing the concern and risk the adult care giving child is willing to assume to enable an acceptable level of independence and consequent risk (to the care giver) for their now dependent parent.

Like an automobile, mobile robots are made from steel, aluminum, plastic, and electronics, but with ten to twenty times the amount of software running. The CareBot has an aluminum frame, plastic shroud, two independently driven wheels, multiple sensor systems, microprocessors and several onboard computers connected in a local area network (LAN). The microprocessors directly interact with the sensor systems and transmit data to the onboard computers. The onboard computers each run independent, highly specialized co-operative/subsumptive artificial intelligence (AI) software programmes, GeckoSavants, which interact to complete tasks in a timely, intelligent and common sense manner.

GeckoNav, GeckoChat and GeckoTrak are primary GeckoSavants. GeckoNav is responsible for all fully autonomous manoeuvering, such as avoiding dynamic and/or static obstacles, running errands and patrolling. GeckoChat is responsible for interaction with the care-receiver such as answering questions, assisting with daily routines and reminders, and responding to other verbal commands. GeckoTrak, which is mostly transparent to the user, enables the CareBot to maintain proximity to the care receiver using sensor fusion. The CareBot is an Internet appliance that is accessible for remote video/audio monitoring and telepresence.

"No doubt a significant amount of the daily shorting of GCKO stock is due to disbelieving brokerage firms betting against the reality and economic benefit of our many breakthrough mobile robot solutions. To those skeptics, that also decried the 'talkies, horseless carriages, flying machines, the telephone, the TV, the personal computer, and the Internet', we say: Stay tuned. We are real. Our technologies are real. The family benefits are real. The markets are real. And we are in this to the realization of personal companion robot benefits for families with satisfying ROI for our now 1200+ investors", opined Martin Spencer.

GeckoSystems has also advanced the capabilities of their uppermost GeckoSavant, the GeckoSuper. "Real world testing and development enables automotive manufacturers such as Ford, GM, Chrysler, Honda, BMW, and others to improve the reliability and performance of their mainstream product lines. Mobile robot development, especially personal companion robot development, is no different", remarked Martin Spencer, President/CEO, GeckoSystems.

"As we continue our world's first in home elder care robot trials, we keep on learning more from these real world tests, just as NASCAR racing participation enables domestic manufacturers to design more efficient engines, better brakes, improved handling, and greater safety. Since we are pioneers in this emerging marketplace, these trials have given us important insights and numerous ideas as to how to improve the cost-effective utility and benefit to the care giver and care receiver. Our now fourth generation GeckoSuper in the last five years is substantive testimony as to the many technological barriers we have demonstrably solved since our founding over twelve years ago", continued Martin Spencer.

GeckoSuper is an AI/expert system responsible for system-wide orchestrated subsumption. At its simplest, subsumption means organizing various simple behaviours into layers. Low-level layers contain the most basic behaviours (eg. avoid an obstacle), while high-level layers can be thought of as more abstract behaviours (eg. explore the surroundings). This is a bottom-up approach; low-level layers can override the high-level layers as necessary. The end result is an approach where high-level layers provide an overall goal for the AI system to achieve whereas the low-level layers provide the means.

This approach summarizes GeckoSuper perfectly. Its ability to receive data from other GeckoSavants and make decisions based upon that data means that GeckoSuper can provide a general directive for the robot to currently execute without having to actually worry about how it is carried out. This frees up GeckoSuper to instead focus on prioritization; given two or more inputs, GeckoSuper can determine the order in which they need to be addressed. Depending upon the circumstances, this could be interpreted as a form of common sense on the part of the robot.

The inclusion and utilization of so many specialized GeckoSavants running in parallel and mediated by GeckoSuper allows the CareBot to perform comparatively complex tasks in a timely and efficient manner. In GeckoSystems terminology, a GeckoSavant is an AI/expert system that is responsible for and excels at one particular task or group of related tasks. An example would be GeckoScheduler. Version 2.0 has recently been completed to improve the user experience. GeckoScheduler stores the when and frequency of upcoming verbal reminders to waypoint commands, and it will see to it that they are executed at the desired time. How these tasks are carried out is not GeckoScheduler's burden, it only needs to ensure that the appropriate commands are sent when they are needed.

No one GeckoSavant is necessarily the star of the show, however. The nature of subsumption architecture means that various beneficial emergent behaviours can arise. For example, the CareBot can be commanded to move toward a waypoint that is in the middle of a table. The robot will do its best to go there, but its collision avoidance programming will repel it. The end result is that the CareBot circles around the table "looking" for a way to its programmed destination. This means that it is really the combination of multiple savants that allows the CareBot to behave in a complex, intelligent manner. More GeckoSavants mean more opportunities for emergent behaviours. GeckoSuper is built to recognize this advantage, and its extensibility allows it to easily take in more data with which to make actionable decisions. Combined with its prioritization, GeckoSuper allows the robots to not simply react to stimuli, but gain actionable situational awareness of its surroundings.

This has striking parallels to sensor fusion, another feature that appears in GeckoSystems' suite of mobile service robot technologies. Sensor fusion is the combination of two or more sensory inputs - such as sight and hearing - to achieve greater awareness of the surroundings. For example, you don't just see oncoming cars when you cross the street, you also frequently hear them. Possessing two or more independent inputs not only gives you more information about your environment, but also increased redundancy. For example, if you are temporarily blinded, you can still hear, smell and feel your way around. Similarly, GeckoSuper is able to take data from multiple inputs and use it to paint a portrait of its environment. More independent sensory data sources means a more complete picture and understanding of the environment, whether static or dynamic.

In other words, the end result of GeckoSuper's redesign is numerous applications, including persistent surveillance for monitoring the well being of the elderly, security, etc. In addition, many, if not most, of these actions can be done autonomously with little or no intervention necessary, unless otherwise desired.

"To many, the foregoing GeckoSuper discussion may well be 'techno-babble'. Unfortunately the terminology evolves slower than the new technology it describes, as evident with early planes called flying machines and early cars called horseless carriages. Initially personal computer descriptions and explanations were equally obscure. The benefits of and technology behind personal companion robots is difficult to communicate in present every day vernacular. These are still the 'early days' of mobile service robot sales and usage", opined Mark Peele, Vice President, R&D, GeckoSystems.

GeckoSystems has further cost reduced their robot controller board, the GeckoSPIO, while improving ease of manufacturability and maintaining robust functionality. "The GeckoSPIO is the critical interface between the robot's physical platform and higher AI functions. This interface provides a level of abstraction for the commands sent to, and the data sent from, the robot platform. The abstraction and hierarchal architecture the GeckoSPIO provides simplifies interacting with the platform and the real world for the high-level software, along with enabling a wide array of sensor fusion techniques. We are pleased that one of our recently hired electrical engineers has made these improvements", stated Mark Peele, Vice President, R&D, GeckoSystems.

"Our sensor loving, fully autonomous AI guidance software, GeckoNav, continues to perform in its exemplary manner to sense and avoid collisions - without human intervention. The new, more cost effective GeckoSPIO reduces the funds needed to expand our ongoing, world's first in home elder care robot trials", concluded Martin Spencer, President/CEO, GeckoSystems.

The GeckoSPIO enables sensor fusion with seven eight-bit MCU's with eight pulse width modulation (PWM) outputs; over two hundred digital, forty analogue to digital, seventeen serial, and two 10/100mhz Ethernet ports. According to Wikipedia: "Sensor fusion is the combining of sensory data or data derived from sensory data from disparate sources such that the resulting information is in some sense better than would be possible when these sources were used individually."

Everyday we use "sensor fusion" in our routine activities. For example, we smell smoke and then look for a grayish cloud to determine the source of the smoke, its proximity, and consequent degree of danger to us. In noisy crowds when we talk with someone, we use lip reading to enable us to understand what we don't hear clearly. Humans use sensor fusion every day to make choices based on data that is interdependent, or incomplete, versus using only one of our five senses. The better the sensor fusion, the better the choices and the more "actionable" the "situation awareness" is.

GeckoSystems employs proprietary sensor fusion technologies not only in its flagship automatic self-navigation software, GeckoNav, but also in GeckoTrak, the GeckoSPIO, and GeckoOrient. GeckoTrak uses advanced sensor fusion to merge machine vision, passive infrared, and sonar to identify and/or locate the person of interest such that GeckoTrak can inform GeckoNav automatically as to the whereabouts of the designated person for continuous proximate monitoring. GeckoOrient automatically and intelligently merges sensor data from odometry (dead reckoning), a solid-state compass, and accelerometer-based gyroscopes (IMU's), for enhanced orientation accuracy while errand running, patrolling, or following a designated person.

"GeckoSuper provides the umbrella for our suite of GeckoSavants with the disparate, functional benefits needed to cost-effectively provide utility to families for remote care taking of their members and other loved ones, by making them more personal and uniquely adapted, and addressed to the particular person to be assisted. Not only does this capability enable new forms of social interaction and community for families - even when dispersed geographically, just as 'racing improves the breed', our in home elder care robot trials are teaching us what we need to know to expand our marketplace and increase ROI for our investors", concluded Martin Spencer.

More company news is available in the VMW January 2010 article Grandma interacts during GeckoSystems' elder care robot trials.

Source: GeckoSystems

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