Swarming Robot Teams to Map, Survey Buildings

By Eric Beidel
In the future, robots may be the true first responders.

University researchers are equipping small mobile machines with the brainpower to explore and map buildings on their own and relay relevant information to soldiers, firefighters or other personnel waiting outside.

The Army Research Laboratory’s five-year Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology program is led by BAE Systems and leverages the work of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania and California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Their ultimate objective is to enable small autonomous robots to deal with civilian and military challenges in confined spaces. Researchers envision “a collaborative team of tiny devices that can roll, hop, crawl or fly just about anywhere, with sensors that detect and send information back to humans,” according to a Georgia Institute of Technology statement.

“There is no lead robot, yet each unit is capable of recruiting other units to make sure the entire area is explored,” said Henrik Christensen, a professor at the Georgia Tech College of Computing. “When the first robot comes to an intersection, it says to a second robot, ‘I’m going to go to the left if you go to the right.’”

The robots used so far in experiments measure about a square foot, but the objective is to create machines that can be held in the palm of a hand. Researchers are developing a unit that will use radar to see through walls and infrared sensors to locate objects giving off heat. They also have begun designing small aerial platforms that would be able to locate specific buildings, find likely entry points and then call in robotic mapping teams to explore the structures.

These teams could be employed by first responders — from firefighters to soldiers — as they confront unfamiliar structures, Christensen said.

“If those first responders could send in robots that would quickly search the structure and send back a map, they would have a much better sense of what to expect and they would feel more confident,” he said.

Topics: Robotics

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