Anyone who's played a first-person shooter will be familiar with using the direction that a character is looking to also control the direction they move. The concept is known as "free look control." Firefighters in Pisa, Italy, have been testing this method for operating emergency response robots.
Emergency response robots are sent into environments such as burning houses in advance of people going in to gain an understanding of what the situation is like inside. It's essential that the individual or individuals operating the robots are able to do so quickly and with ease in order to avoid wasting precious time.
Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) explains that the current standard for emergency response robot control is known as "tank control." This method is said to be more straightforward to implement, whilst requiring more concentration to use. The movement of the robot and the movement of the camera are controlled separately using independent pieces of hardware, such as levers and/or joysticks.
Free look control is reported a more natural method of interaction for controlling emergency response robots, making the operator's job easier. "The idea is to reduce the mental strain on the operator, so they can focus on the environment they are dealing with," explains associate professor at KTH's Center for Autonomous Systems Petter Ögren.
In addition to reducing the number of elements required to control the robot, free look control allows bots to move in ways that they cannot with tank control. For example, as the robot's movement is always interpreted relative to the view of the camera, it can be moved perpendicular to the direction of view. In gaming parlance this is known as "strafing" and is regarded as a natural and intuitive mode of movement.
Of the firefighters testing free look control as a potential means of controlling emergency response robots, 12 out of 16 said they preferred it to tank control. In one test, operators were tasked with locating as many markers as possible within two minutes. With tank control, robot operators managed an average of 4.5, but free look that number was bumped up to 6.
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