Aerial drones are widely utilized for mapping, with the maps that they create subsequently being used by us humans. In an experiment recently conducted at the ETH Zurich research institute, however, a drone mapped a room so that a quadrupedal robot could then make its way through. Such research could pave the way for completely robotic missions in real-world settings.
The exercise began with a hexacopter flying through a small room, which had a variety of obstacles and types of surfaces laid on its floor. There was also a designated starting point for the ground-based robot, along with a marked goal location that it had to reach.
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Data gathered by the drone's downward-facing camera and other sensors was then used to create a high-resolution elevation map of the floor. That map was subsequently analyzed for potentially-challenging features such as slope steepness, surface roughness and step height. A path was then plotted for the robot, which would allow it to get from the starting point to the goal unimpeded.
As it slowly followed that path, the robot used onboard sensors such as a lidar unit to both confirm that it was in the right place in relation to the map, and to make its way around new obstacles that had been put in place since the aerial mapping was performed. Ultimately, it successfully reached its target, with no human intervention required.
The drone and robot can be seen in action, in the video below.
In a much larger-scale exercise carried out last year in the US, a full-sized autonomous helicopter was used to fly a wheeled robot to a drop-off location on the ground, from which point that robot then made its way to a predetermined destination.