Article: From the Collections--Miniature Autonomous Robotic Vehicles :: Smithsonian Lemelson Center
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Kate Wiley, Lemelson Center public affairs specialist
Two of the MARV robots donated to the Museum by Sandia National Laboratories. © 2011 Smithsonian Institution; photo by Harold Dorwin

In addition to participating in NanoDays 2011, the Lemelson Center's Spark!Lab celebrated National Robotics Week during April with new robotics-related activities and a donation ceremony. One of the highlights of the objects added to the National Museum of American History's small but significant--and growing--robotics collection is the Miniature Autonomous Robotic Vehicle (MARV) developed by Sandia National Laboratories in 1996-97.

Though not quite nano-scale, MARV is only one cubic inch in size, yet carries all its necessary components onboard, including power and computers. One of the first miniature robots developed in the United States and the first of its kind built at Sandia National Laboratories, MARV emerged from a project designed to see how small a robot could be. MARV was created using parts from toy locomotives and pagers, and is still made primarily from commercially available components.

Although the original MARV had "terrible" mobility and battery life, according to Sandia's Barry Spletzer, its developers were able to learn a great deal from their work with MARV, and applied that knowledge to a whole new generation of robots. A descendant of MARV--MARV Jr.--was named the 2001 robotics invention of the year by Time magazine.

Other donations to the robotics collection from Sandia National Laboratories include hopping robots; Dixie, developed in the 1980s as one of the earliest battlefield scout robots; and an improved laser vision system invented by Velodyne for use in robot vehicle races held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, including the 2005 Grand Challenge and the 2007 Urban Challenge. The laser vision system allows terrain mapping in three dimensions. Also included in the Velodyne donation is a competition robot developed in 2000.

From Prototype, May 2011

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