Sep. 25, 2012 at 2:05 PM ET
In a twist, researchers are leveraging technology developed for robots to turn humans into real-time digital map makers. The development could help firefighters rescue people trapped in buildings or the military hunt down terrorists.
The contraption hangs over a person’s chest and uses a suite of sensors that includes a laser range finder and Microsoft Kinect to create a digital map as a person explores their environment, according to the developers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The maps can be sent wirelessly to a remote base station and, as seen in the video clip below, are continually expanded and refined as more data is gathered. A click of a button designates points of interest – such as a damaged wall or door to a room with servers full of sensitive information.
Absent from the video is footage showing the system’s ability to measure altitude, allowing maps of multiple-story buildings.
The technology stems from a branch of robotics known as simultaneous localization and mapping that has been adapted for human use to account for things such as the jostling movements of footsteps versus the smooth roll of a robot, for example.
The current prototype is about the size of a tablet computer, but could be shrunk to coffee cup size, according to the research team.
The human-portable map-making system was developed with a hazmat situation in mind “where people are suited up with the full suit and the go in and explore an environment,” Maurice Fallon, a research scientist at MIT, said in a news release.
While certainly true, the project was supported by the U.S. Air Force and Office of Naval Research, suggesting this technology could find its way to urban battlefields.
A paper on the system will be presented at the Intelligent Robots and Systems conference in Portugal this October.