How does one go about programming a drone to fly itself through the real world to a location without crashing into something? This is a tough problem, made even tougher if you’re pushing speeds higher and high. But any article with “MIT” implies the problems being engineered are not trivial.
The folks over at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have put their considerable skill set to work in tackling this problem. And what they’ve come up with is (not surprisingly) quite clever: they’re embracing uncertainty.
Why Is Autonomous Navigation So Hard?
Suppose we task ourselves with building a robot that can insert a key into the ignition switch of a motor vehicle and start the engine, and could do so in roughly the same time-frame that a human could do — let’s say 10 seconds. It may not be an easy robot to create, but we can all agree that it is very doable. With foreknowledge of the coordinate information of the vehicle’s ignition switch relative to our robotic arm, we can place the key in the switch with 100% accuracy. But what if we wanted our robot to succeed in any car with a standard ignition switch?
Now the location of the ignition switch will vary slightly (and not so slightly) for each model of car. That means we’re going to have to deal with this in real time and develop our coordinate system on the fly. This would not be too much of an issue if we could slow down a little. But keeping the process limited to 10 seconds is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible. At some point, the amount of environment information and computation becomes so large that the task becomes digitally unwieldy.
This problem is analogous to autonomous navigation. The environment is always changing, so we need sensors to constantly monitor the state of the drone and its immediate surroundings. If the obstacles become too great, it creates another problem that lies in computational abilities… there is just too much information to process. The only solution is to slow the drone down. NanoMap is a new modeling method that breaks the artificial speed limit normally imposed with on-the-fly environment mapping.
Continue reading “MIT Breaks Autonomous Drone Speed Limits By Not Sweating Obstacles”
This interesting project out of MIT aims to use technology to help visually impaired people navigate through the use of a haptic feedback belt, chest-mounted sensors, and a braille display.
The belt consists of a vibration motors controlled by what appears to be a Raspberry Pi (for the prototype anyway) with a distance sensor and camera connected as well. The core algorithm is designed to take input from the camera and distance sensors to compute the distance to obstacles, and to buzz the right motor to alert the user — fairly expected stuff. However, the project has a higher goal: to assist in identifying and using chairs.
Aiming to detect the seat and arms, the algorithm looks for three horizontal surfaces near each other, taking extra care to ensure the chair isn’t occupied. The study found that, used in conjunction with a cane, the system noticeably helped users navigate through realistic environments, as measured by minor and major collisions. Users recorded dramatically fewer collisions as compared to using the system alone or the cane alone. The project also calls for a belt-mounted braille display to relay more complicated information to the user.
We at HaD have followed along with several braille projects, including a refreshable braille display, a computer with a braille display and keyboard, and this braille printer.
Continue reading “Visual Scanner Turns Obstacles into Braille”
There’s a harsh truth underlying all robotic research: compared to evolution, we suck at making things move. Nature has a couple billion years of practice making things that can slide, hop, fly, swim and run, so why not leverage those platforms? That’s the idea behind this turtle with a navigation robot strapped to its back.
This reminds us somewhat of an alternative universe sci-fi story by S.M. Stirling called The Sky People. In the story, Venus is teeming with dinosaurs that Terran colonists use as beasts of burden with brain implants that stimulate pleasure centers to control them. While the team led by [Phill Seung-Lee] at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology isn’t likely to get as much work from the red-eared slider turtle as the colonists in the story got from their bionic dinosaurs, there’s still plenty to learn from a setup like this. Using what amounts to a head-up display for the turtle in the form of a strip of LEDs, along with a food dispenser for positive reinforcement, the bionic terrapin is trained to associate food with the flashing LEDs. The LEDs are then used as cues as the turtle navigates between waypoints in a tank. Sadly, the full article is behind a paywall, but the video below gives you a taste of the gripping action.
Looking for something between amphibian and fictional dinosaurs to play mind games with? Why not make your best friend bionic? Continue reading “Head-Up Display Augments Bionic Turtle’s Reality”
The “Navigation Thing“ was designed and built by [Jan Mrázek] as part of a night game activity for high school students during week-long seminar. A night-time path through a forest had stations with simple tasks, and the Navigation Thing used GPS, digital compass, a beeper, and a ring of RGB LEDs to provide a bit of “Wow factor” while guiding a group of students from one station to the next. The devices had a clear design direction:
“I wanted to build a device which a participant would find, insert batteries, and follow the beeping to find the next stop. Imagine the strong feeling of straying in the middle of the night in an unknown terrain far away from civilization trusting only a beeping thing you found. That was the feeling I wanted to achieve.”
The Navigation Things (there are six in total) guide users to fixed waypoints with GPS, a digital compass, and a ring of WS2812 LEDs — but the primary means of feedback to the user is a beeping that gets faster as you approach the destination. [Jan] had only four days to make all six units, which was doable. But as most of us know, delivering on a tight deadline is often less about doing the work you know about, and more about effectively handling the unexpected obstacles that inevitably pop up in the process.
Continue reading “Navigation Thing: Four Days, Three Problems, and Fake Piezos”
You’d figure a luxury car like a Jaguar would have a high-end infotainment system. [RichTatham]’s Jag did, but the trouble was that it was a high-end system when a cassette deck and trunk-mounted CD changer were big deals. So naturally, he saw this as a great reason to modernize the system by grafting a netbook into the Jag’s dash. The results are fantastic!
Even though the Jag’s original system didn’t have much left that made it into the final project — the navigation system, CD changer, phone and even the amps ended up on the scrap heap — at least the dashboard instrument cluster proved to be very amenable to his mods. By substituting a climate control cluster from another model into his car, he was able to free up tons of space for the netbook’s 8″ display. A custom bezel and some clever brackets completed the head-end of the new system, and the look is as close to a factory install as you’re likely to find in an aftermarket mod. With the netbook stashed in the bay vacated by the OEM system, a GPS dongle, and a USB sound card connected to a 5.1 amp using the original speakers this jag is ready to bump. We bet that the system sounds as good as it looks, and with the added functionality of a Windows PC to boot.
For obvious reasons, lots of computers make it into hackers’ dashboards, whether they be Windows like this one, Samsung tablets or Nexus tablets running Android, and even phones. But [Rich]’s build is top notch, and takes in-car integrations to the next level.
Wearable tech is getting to be a big thing. But how we interface with this gear is still a bit of a work in progress. To explore this space, [Bruce Land]’s microcontroller course students came up with an acoustic interface to assist with navigation while walking. With style, of course.
[Bruce], from the Cornell University School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been burning up the Hackaday tips line with his students’ final projects. Here’s the overview page for the Sound Navigation Hat. It uses a PIC32 with GPS and compass. A lot of time was spent figuring out how to properly retrieve and parse the GPS data, but for us the interesting bits on that page are how the directional sound was put together.
Audio tones are fed to earbuds with phase shift and amplitude to make it seem like the sound is coming from the direction you’re supposed to walk. Navigation is all based on pre-programmed routes which are selected using a small LCD screen and buttons. One thing’s for sure, the choice of headwear for the project is beyond reproach from a fashion standpoint – engineering has a long history with the top hat, and we think it’s high time it made a comeback.
Is this a practical solution to land navigation? Of course not. But it could be implemented in smartphone audio players for ambient turn-by-turn navigation. And as a student project, it’s a fun way to demonstrate a novel interface. We recently covered a haptic navigation interface for the visually impaired that uses a similar principle. It’ll be interesting to see if either of these interfaces goes anywhere.
Continue reading “Stepping out in Style with Top Hat Navigation”
I came across an interesting question this weekend: how do you establish your East/West location on the globe without modern technology? The answer depends on what you mean by “modern”, it turns out you only have to go back about three centuries to find there was no reliable way. The technology that changed that was a clock; a very special one that kept accurate time despite changing atmospheric conditions and motion. The invention of the Harrison H1 revolutionized maritime travel.
We can thank Andy Weir for getting me onto this topic. I just finished his amazing novel The Martian and I can confirm that George Graves’ opinion of the high quality of that novel is spot on. For the most part, Andy lines up challenges that Mark Watney faces and then engineers a solution around them. But when it came to plotting location on the surface of Mars he made just a passing reference to the need to have accurate clocks to determine longitude. I had always assumed that a sextant was all you needed. But unless you have a known landmark to sight from this will only establish your latitude (North/South position).
Continue reading “Navigating the Oceans is Deadly Without a Clock”