In today’s world, we are constantly surrounded by automatons, be it cell phones, computers or even the humble wrist watch. Despite immense technological advances, in recent decades, scientists have not yet been able to develop walking robots that can independently traverse rough, irregular terrain, without faltering. To that end, the researchers from Autonomous Systems Lab at ETH Zurich have devised an innovative navigation system, in which a hexacopter guides a robo-mule, by providing a map of the nearby area.
Before the four-legged bot commences its journey, the UAV scouts the space lying ahead, mapping out the relative elevations using a monocular camera. Once the data has been relayed to the other automaton, the hexacopter sets down. The walking robot then studies the surrounding terrain, including its slope, roughness and the presence of obstacles, to identify the most efficient route to reach the end point. What is more, an advanced laser rangefinder allows it to constantly calculate the elevation level of the space ahead.
Developed as part of a study, entitled “Collaborative Navigation for Flying and Walking Robots”, the technology is currently undergoing peer review, and will likely be showcased at the 2016 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. According to the researchers, the system could have far-reaching applications. For instance, it could eventually allow a Mars rover to thoroughly map out the surrounding terrain before setting off, thus making it more sure-footed.