Robotic Safety Barrels: Smart Traffic Cones

Robotic Safety Barrels (RSBs) developed by Shane Farritor may be the kind of smart traffic cones that can save $100 billion per year in losses due to accidents and delays on U.S. highways. The little robots may also be able to save lives; more than 33 people die in accidents for every billion dollars spent on road repair. They are an important part of a Robotic Safety Marker (RSM) system that would include barricades and other devices to improve traffic safety.


(From Robotic Highway Safety Markers)

The RSB prototype units consist of a brightly colored barrel about 130 cm high and 50 cm in diameter. The RSB robot replaces the heavy base of a typical safety barrel with a mobile robot; the robots can be piloted by a remote operator, or move autonomously. To save costs, the robots work in teams. A more expensive "shepherd" robot with built-in Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation would position itself precisely, and then guide the placement of less expensive units, which measure out their positions based on wheel movement (a "dead reckoning" system). In tests, the robots were able to deploy themselves just about as well as humans could place them - their big wheels let them turn on a dime.

Update 08-Nov-2007: I found an interesting reference from a 1944 Isaac Asimov story that is a good match for these robotic traffic cones. The story revolves around Dave (DV-5), a mining robot with six subsidiary robots to boss around:

[Powell] watched the posturings of the robots on the visiplate. They were bronzy gleams of smooth motion against the shadowy crags of the airless asteroid. There was a marching formation now, and in their own dim body light, the rough-hewn walls of the mine tunnel swam past noiselessly, checkered with misty erratic blobs of shadow. They marched in unison, seven of them, with Dave at the head.
(Read more about multiple robot team)

End update.

Take a look at a similar kind of robot swarming in a previous story: COTS Scout: Team Building Robots.

These robotic safety barrels are exactly what you would need to build a Bambakias hotel from Bruce Sterling's Distraction. Don't forget your talking tape.

See a nice technical treatment of this topic at Robotic Highway Safety Markers from IMECE2002 Proceedings. Story from Robotic cones swarm onto highways.

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