LiDAR tech lets robots spot what soldiers may miss
There are now several robots that are designed to accompany and assist ground-based army troops. Those machines could soon have a new ability – detecting changes in the environment that may be missed by soldiers.
When weapons such as IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are hidden along the roadside, they do visually change the environment, but in a manner which is subtle enough that it will likely be unnoticed by the human eye. The US Army Research Laboratory's Dr. Christopher Reardon set out to address that problem.
Working with colleagues from the University of California, San Diego, he equipped a small autonomous wheeled robot with LiDAR sensors – these detect objects and measure distances by emitting laser beams, then measuring how long it takes for the laser light to be reflected back by whatever it strikes.
In Reardon's system, the robot had initially LiDAR-scanned an environment once, in order to establish a baseline for what everything should look like. When it went back through that environment again, the robot was able to detect even very slight changes in the placement of three-dimensional objects. That data was transmitted to augmented reality eyewear being worn by a human teammate, highlighting the suspect item within their field of vision.
It was noted that even relatively small, inexpensive, low-resolution LiDAR units performed the task sufficiently, making the technology more suitable for real-world use.
"This research aims to fill gaps by incorporating useful information from robot teammates into the soldier-worn visual augmentation ecosystem, while simultaneously making the robots better teammates to the soldier," says Reardon.
The Netherlands' Eindhoven University of Technology is developing a somewhat similar system, although it's designed to be mounted on vehicles, and it utilizes a stereoscopic video camera instead of LiDAR sensors.
Source: Army Research Laboratory