Introducing IRVing, the Industrial Robotic Vacuum. IRVing is going to be the first group project for the Robot Group. Sometime in mid to late march I will be announcing the first build day for IRVing. So, what is the idea behind IRVing? The answer after the jump.

As many of you know, ATX Hackerspace has been kind enough to let us use their classroom for our Thursday night meetings. Well, most of them anyway. We still meet once a month WAY down south at the Heritage (a heartfelt thanks to them as well, they’ve been very supportive of out group). Oh, and did I mention I’m writing this from my home in Pflugerville? Definitely not close to the Heritage, but much closer to the hackerspace. But I digress.

There has been a lot of chatter about the lack of sweeping that occurs on a regular basis there. Some of their members have a tendency of leaving without necessarily being thorough with their clean up. This is to be expected. There is a lot of foot traffic in and out at all hours of the day and night.

It occurred to me while reading this most recent thread on this topic that the Robot Group may be in a position to help while at the same time providing ourselves with a little exercise in solving a real world problem through robotics. In my home, as many of ours, I’m sure, I have a little robot minion that sweeps up after my dogs who, either through malice, laziness, or a lack of opposable thumbs, do not sweep up after themselves. The situation somehow feels similar (give or take the aforementioned opposable thumbs). So, why not build a similar robot suitable for a shop?

First off, before we get to the proposed design, it is important to note the Robot Group will own IRVing. Once done, if ATX Hackerspace likes the end product, we will enter into a hosting agreement with them just like other members do when they host a tool there. Of course, this will become a little different because, though we are a legal entity (501c.3 non-profit educational corporation) the group itself is not a member of the hackerspace. But these are details we’ll work out later.

So, the design. Initially I don’t see building more functionality than your average Roomba robot. It will need simple object avoidance and a few different programs for wall following and different sweeping patterns. Later we may look at expanding it further with robot vision and person identification and avoidance (because unlike a table, those blasted people are mobile obstacles). The physical build will be little more than a couple motors set up for differential drive moving around a small shop-vac and a 5 gallon bucket. I envision two options for the vacuum; a Bucket Head vacuum from Home Depot or a modified Dyson style cyclone vacuum. The Bucket Head is more practical, while the cyclone vacuum would just look cool on top of the robot.

Some of the challenges include, of course, power, sensors, and programming. Power will obviously be batteries but the vacuum options are almost entirely 110V AC. Which means we’ll either need to convert the vacuum to a DC motor or have an on-board inverter. I lean toward the motor replacement option myself since inverters are so inefficient for this use. But I could be wrong and that’s why we’ll have a design session to go over our options. Sensors will likely be a combination of IR and bump sensors with cameras and robot vision being a real possibility down the line.

When this project gets started I’ll be looking for some commitment from the membership to help get this done fairly rapidly. Ideally, give or take part sourcing, I’d like to have this done within 90 days from start. With a volunteer group like ours this may be a rather aggressive goal, but not unreachable.

Once IRVing is working he’ll be a great show piece for the group. We will have to photograph, record, and otherwise take careful notes of the build process. Not only do I want to post frequent updates here, but I want to make sure we have the information for an Instructable and possibly an article for publication.

This will be a fun, bonding experience for the group.