A common issue faced by any robot designer would not only be how to power the machine, but how the robot will recharge. If you’ve watched WALL-E, you’ll know that this cute little critter has to bask in the sunlight for a few moments to recharge his batteries (after which the familiar Apple-like sound would signal his “booting up”). How about other robots?
Imagine having to plug in your robot at the end of each day. That would be tedious, wouldn’t it? And it would defeat the purpose of having a machine that should be autonomous in the first place. There have been research that looked into robots plugging themselves into the wall outlet when running low on charge. Most systems relied on a visual approach, but that necessitated customizations to the wall outlet itself, such as patterns and color schemes.
New development by Intel Labs Seattle with its Marvin robot looks into robots plugging themselves into unmodified wall outlets by seeking out the AC electrical field. Our electrical systems, after all, run an alternating current that has a certain pattern–60 cycles per second, or 60 Hz. So electrical current sensing should be a fairly straightforward task for a robot.
In my mind, though, what could make it better is if the robot can plug itself into different types of outlets (American, Euro, Asian, etc.), and different frequencies (some countries use 50 Hz).
Now imagine if you have an electric car that can plug itself in to recharge the moment you drive up your garage.