IBM Roomba Data Centre Robot lead

IBM Roomba-Based Robot Measures Data Centre Heat

Robot vacuum cleaner helps IBM save energy

On by Peter Judge 0

IBM is plotting the temperature patterns in data centres to improve their energy efficiency, using robots based on an iRobot Roomba base – and it is not the only company using this approach.

IBM has built a bunch of robots using iRobot Create, a customisable version of iRobot’s Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, which can move autonomously round data centres, plotting the temperature and humidity. The resulting maps can spot areas where cold air is being wasted, or hot spots are developing, so energy can be saved. A strikingly similar project is underway at EMC in India.

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“We currently have 11 production robots deployed in four continents, nine of which are at IBM data centres and two of which are used for customer engagements,” IBM researcher Jonathan Lenchner told TechWeekEurope. “We expect to have quite a few more robots deployed by the end of this year.”

The robots have recently been given the ability to scan RFID tags so they can add asset tracking to their role. Lenchner has been developing them for a couple of years, and has published papers on them (one of which is here).

“As it navigates the data centre it also reads the RFID tags on the equipment and thereby locates the individual servers, storage and networking equipment quite precisely, and much more inexpensively than if one were to put RFID readers in each rack, which is the common practice today,” said Lenchner. He promised that in future the robot would be able to track assets without using any sort of tag. “This approach promises even larger cost savings, but is not yet production ready.”

Before the robot, IBM had to use time-consuming manual approaches to create heat maps of data centres, using a mobile cart. Instead of this, the robot finds its way around the data centre, carrying a vertical pole on which the sensors and a webcam are mounted. The webcam means that the robot’s operator can see the cause of any problem before getting down the data centre.

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Surprisingly enough, an almost identical approach has been taken to the problem by an EMC group based in India. Just like the IBM project, it has an iRobot Create base, with a netbook controller, and webcam and sensors on a vertical pole, described in a posting including a video.

“We have seen the video of the EMC robot and believe our robot is much further along than theirs,” said Lenchner. Despite the similarity of the two projects, he believes EMC came up with the idea independently (the video mentions it was floated at an Innovation Conference in 2010).  Indeed, Lenchner says other firms have built similar robots, but abandoned the projects.

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Peter Judge
Author: Peter Judge
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