Mules are definitely the fashionable beast of burden these days. Another one, Baudet- (actually the real name of a breed of donkey) Rob2 was attracting attention on the French Ministry of Defence stand yesterday (13 June) on the first day of the Eurosatory trade show. This mule comes in four different sizes to carry loads from 25kg to 800kg and follows you hands-free like a little dog.
You stand in front of it, push a button so that it “memorises” your legs and then when you start walking at normal speed it follows silently behind you on its wheels. When you stop, it stops. When you turn, it turns.
Developed by Effidence, a start-up founded in 2009 that is just moving into the SME category, in partnership with two research laboratories, IRSTEA (institut national de recherche en sciences et technologies pour l’environnement et l’agriculture) which is an agricultural and environmental research institute, and the Institut Pascal, Baudet-Rob2 has benefitted from the French DGA procurement agency’s Astrid (accompagnement spécifique des travaux pour la recherche et l’innovation défense) programme.
Astrid differs from the Rapid programmes (which we wrote about on 2 June) in that rather than the company coming to the DGA for help with developing an idea, on the contrary the DGA has an idea and then looks for a company who could help develop it for both military and civilian uses.
And why did an agricultural research institute get involved? “Because the problems of using a robot in agriculture are very similar to those of using it on a military terrain. It must deal with very uneven terrain, detect and avoid obstacles such as rocks, plants etc., and be useable in any weather conditions,” explained Christophe Debain of the IRSTEA.
Debain told FOB that Baudet-Rob2 has already been sold to the French national railway company, SNCF, to carry luggage for handicapped passengers, to DHL so that operators can load packages onto it, to wineries and fruit and vegetable growers. The soldier who tried it out for FOB was intrigued!
Debain explained that Effidence developed the intelligence that makes the vehicle move. It is the brains, contrary to Robbox (which we wrote about on 10 June) that is the skeleton and muscles. Thus the “brain” made by Effidence can be adapted onto any wheeled platform. And, according to Debain, the SME is more interested in developing the brain than the muscles. “But in any case this is a project that is creating employment,” Debain told FOB proudly. And rightly so: the company was founded by one of his former students!