Automate The Freight: Platooning

On yet another one of those long, pointless road trips that seemed to punctuate my life starting when I got my license, I was plying the roads somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania with a friend. He told me that on long trips he’d often relieve the boredom by finding another car from the same state as his destination, and then just follow it. I wasn’t sure then how staring at the same car, hour after hour, mile after mile, would do anything but increase the boredom while making you look sort of creepy, but it seemed to work for him.

What works for college kids in cars also works for long-haul truckers, and the concept of a convoy has long been a fact of life on the road and a part of popular culture. Hardly a trip on the US Interstate goes by without seeing a least two truckers traveling in close formation, partly for companionship and mutual support but also for economic reasons. And now technology is poised to take convoying to the next level, as platooning becomes yet another way to automate the freight.

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Line Following Robot Without The Lines

Line-following robots are a great intro to robotics in general, since the materials and skills needed to build a good one aren’t too advanced. It turns out that line-following robots are more than just a learning tool, too. They’re pretty useful in industry, but most of them don’t follow visible marked lines. Some, like this inductive guided robot from [Randall] make use of wires to determine their paths.

Some of the benefits of inductive guidance over physical lines are that the wires can be hidden in floors, so if something like an automated forklift is using them at a warehouse there will be less trip hazard and less maintenance of the guides. They also support multiple paths, so no complicated track switching has to take place. [Randall]’s robot is a small demonstration of a larger system he built as a technician for an autonomous guided vehicle system. His video goes into the details of how they work, more of their advantages and disadvantages, and a few other things.

While inductive guided robots have been used for decades now, they’re starting to be replaced by robots with local positioning systems and computer vision. We’ve recently seen robots that are built to utilize these forms of navigation as well.

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Robot Maps Rooms With Help From IPhone

The Unity engine has been around since Apple started using Intel chips, and has made quite a splash in the gaming world. Unity allows developers to create 2D and 3D games, but there are some other interesting applications of this gaming engine as well. For example, [matthewhallberg] used it to build a robot that can map rooms in 3D.

The impetus for this project was a robotics company that used a series of robots around their business. The robots navigate using computer vision, but couldn’t map the rooms from scratch. They hired [matthewhallberg] to tackle this problem, and this robot is a preliminary result. Using the Unity engine and an iPhone, the robot can perform in one of three modes. The first is a user-controlled mode, the second is object following, and the third is 3D mapping.

The robot seems fairly easy to construct and only carries and iPhone, a Node MCU, some motors, and a battery. Most of the computational work is done remotely, with the robot simply receiving its movement commands from another computer. There’s a lot going on here, software-wise, and a lot of toolkits and software packages to install and communicate with one another, but the video below does a good job of showing what you’ll need and how it all works together. If that’s all too much, there are other robots with a form of computer vision that can get you started into the world of computer vision and mapping.

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