Denning Mobile Robot
The first ever commercially available autonomous mobile robot

Height = 124 cm (48.75")   Diameter = 72 cm (28")
[not including its 19 cm (7.5") antenna]

RoboCop, the inspiration, not the movie


Denning Mobile Robotics, Inc. of Woburn, Massachusetts (nearby Boston's legendary Route 128) was the "the first company to offer ready-made autonomous robots". This Denning Mobile Robot ("DMR") was introduced in 1985. The first market was as a robotic guard replacement for warehouse and office security. Other hoped for markets included inventory retrieval, office valet, nursing home and hospital assistant, and dangerous assignments. The DMR used AI goal seeking technology to devise the best route and then navigate around obstacles, including moving people and changing environments, and find its own way to a recharging station and plug itself in (analogous to today's driverless cars' challenges).

The commercial markets didn't materialize as the cost was prohibitive, being well in excess $60,000, so the marketing focus shifted to promoting the DMR as a mobile robotic research platform.

Sadly, in 1997, Denning was laid to rest nearby Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where it was conceived.


Initially, the Mean Time Between Failures ("MTBF") was around 10 hours. After an intensive reliability improvement project, that MTBF improved to around 1,000 hours. The success of this project, can be attributed to: a) comprehensive task tracking that was shared widely, b) immersion in dynamic measurement practices that ran tests day AND night, c) a delegation philosophy that recognized each task manager as CEO of his or her task, except for unplanned commitments, d) piecewise MTBF target of 2,000 hours, e) tradeoffs had to be documented to inform later work, and e) especially, the exceptionally talented and enthusiastic team this exciting and demanding challenge attracted!

The task tracking system shown to the right drove the weekly review meeting process. Noteworthy, weekly status reports were replaced by marking a template with codes and, rarely, exception notes. Tasks were designed to have roughly two milestones per month so every task could post a milestone victory every month AND no problem would go unreported for more than a week. The reporting template is on right.

Denning Mobile Robotics
May 18, 1987