iRobot, PackBot

Ciholas has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with iRobot, Inc. Our work with iRobot dates back to the mid 1980s when we built robot electronics for indoor platforms and continues to this day.

The most interesting and rewarding program we have been involved with is the PackBot series of robots. PackBots are an exceptional combination of capability and ruggedness never before achieved in robotics. They are capable of operating in caves, in deserts, in snow, and even under water. They are able to survive severe shock without damage. There are few obstacles that the PackBot cannot cross.

The PackBot chassis provides the mobility, power, brains, and communications for the robot. An embedded implementation of the PC architecture, the electronics are a ground up design optimized for the power, space, weight, and ruggedness required by PackBot. The custom made high performance Pentium motherboard and the tight integration of the electronics into the mechanics are two of its most impressive features.

The PackBot has a very flexible and capable payload interface system. Each of eight ports is capable of two channels of video, 100Mbs Ethernet, USB, and delivering power. Our work also included development efforts on the PackBot EOD and the Packbot Explorer.

The PackBot EOD, now widely deployed in Iraq, adds an articulated arm that is used to defuse terrorist bombs. The electronics integrated into the arm control numerous motors, cameras, lights, and other features. Among the impressive achievements of the arm is the totally enclosed wiring path which protects the wires from damage and keeps the entire payload sealed.

The PackBot Explorer is a sensor rich head mounted on an articulated neck used for search and rescue or surveillance. The head possesses an array of cameras and lights to make searching in all conditions possible. The electronics are integrated inside the head and neck.

Ciholas worked extensively with iRobot engineers in developing these PackBot products. We were involved from the beginning with early conceptual designs and the development of new innovations to solve challenges. Nearly all of the electronics were 3D modeled to test form and fit before construction. We developed several innovations in motor control and sensing that give the PackBot unparalleled performance in a light weight package. Our ability to think "outside the box" enabled significant weight reductions and increased capabilities.

Ciholas continues to support iRobot with the production of the PackBot product line. There is nothing more rewarding than to know our work is instrumental in saving lives.

For further information on the PackBot product line, or to inquire about PackBot payload development, please visit iRobot, Inc.


Boston University, REDOWL

Ciholas is involved in the development of leading edge innovative products. No project typifies this more than the Robot Enhanced Detection Outpost With Laser (REDOWL). REDOWL was developed by the The Photonics Center at Boston University as a payload for the iRobot PackBot Explorer robot. The payload is a remote deployable sensor suite designed to provide early warning information, gunshot detection, intelligence, surveillance and targeting capabilities to military forces and government agencies. The technology allows soldiers to rapidly identify and suppress sniper fire, particularly in difficult urban warfare environments.

Ciholas provided BU with critical assistance in electrical and mechanical integration of the REDOWL design onto the Explorer system. Our work involved miniaturizing and implementing the existing design elements of REDOWL as well as providing design work in the areas of power supply filtering, USB interface to serial and Ethernet, Ethernet PHY interface, thermal design, and board level support with testing and debugging. We developed the final complete schematics, the complex board floor plan, and the board layout for the entire system including jigs for testing. The layout requirements ranged from critical analog processing chains to high speed memory buses. We also developed 3D mechanical models to verify the mechanical integration and to assist BU in developing a final mechanical enclosure.

Our team put in extra effort to meet BU's schedule. The project took less than eight weeks from final design requirements to operational board sets, including the prototype build. Despite the compressed schedule the resulting electronics were flawless. In a design spanning 3 boards, 7,500 total parts, and over 20,000 electrical nets there were no cuts, jumps, or errors. The board set will not require any revisions for production. This high standard is not unusual for Ciholas as our development process and careful attention to detail have always resulted in working boards on the first pass.

"It is essential to have the technical skill, design tools, company focus, and sense of urgency to succeed on a rapid development project like REDOWL. Mike Ciholas and the team at Ciholas met every challenge, beat the schedule, and produced the board layout and finished product in record time. Their technical expertise and performance were absolutely superb with no cuts and no rework. I will work with them again."

-Dr. Glenn Thoren
Director, The Photonics Center at Boston University


Ciholas is extremely pleased to have contributed to the REDOWL project and continues to support BU in deploying this innovative technology.

Inquiries on the REDOWL system should be directed to: The Photonics Center at Boston University.