If the US Navy’s sociable Octavia robot is looking for a little synthetic companionship in the future, all she may have to do is plug a newly-developed electronic brain into the nearest vacuum cleaner, floor waxer, or other cleaning appliance. The CRB100 module, designed by researchers from Spain’s Universitat Jaume I (UJI), is intended to convert ordinary mobile machines into robots.

The UJI research team, known as Cognition for Robotics Research (C4R2), decided to focus its efforts on industrial cleaning machinery. While the technology could also be applied to robots that do things such as factory work or caring for the elderly, the team decided that cleaning is the field where autonomous tools are currently in the highest demand.

According to C4R2’s Prof. Juan Carlos Peris Broch, other manufacturers have tried and failed to create robot janitors. He points to one example that used sonar for sensing its environment, but that ended up being a poor judge of distances. “We, however, have created a ‘brain’ [which joins together] a computer, a scanning laser which detects distances and a series of sensors and actuators controlled by microcontrollers spread along the machine,” stated Broch. “The other difference is that, in addition to the traditional techniques of robotics navigation, we have integrated qualitative reasoning techniques into the computer.” Besides the laser, the module also utilizes sonar and infrared sensors.

Using all these feelers and braininess, the CRB100 can build a map of its environment, and proceed to navigate through it. If people should step into its path, it can detect and avoid them.

The module is currently being tested on industrial scrubbers, but could also find its way onto machines such as lawn mowers, fork lifts and security robots.

C4R2 has formed a spin-off company, Cognitive Robotics, which markets the CRB100.