Next-Generation Surveillance Robots Can Analyze Their Environment
David Hambling
at 08:56 AM Jan 14 2012
Next-Generation Surveillance Robots Can Analyze Their Environment
Courtesy Special Operations Apps
Robots // 

Manned surveillance missions are critical to obtaining useful intelligence. But sending a soldier into sensitive areas can often be too dangerous. Scientists are developing robots that could do the job. Last spring, the Advanced Technologies Laboratory at Lockheed Martin unveiled a prototype that uses sensors to model its environment, detect potential threats, calculate lines of sight, and locate good hiding places.

Next-generation surveillance robots will probably combine sensors similar to those on the prototype with more-powerful artificial intelligence and a stealthy body. One such device could be the snakebot, developed by a team at the Biorobotics and Biomechanics Lab at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The robot could infiltrate sewage pipes, crawl under floorboards, or coil up and stand upright for a better view. It could even shed one of its segments, dropping off audio bugs or explosive warheads for assassination missions.


The 1.8-metre snakebot (top) consists of polymer segments connected by flexible joints and is powered by electric motors. Movement control relies on software that determines the best mode of travel-wriggling, rolling, corkscrewing-for each situation. Sidewinding is fastest but requires good traction; inching forward by undulating the body is slower but works in confined spaces; rolling may be easiest on a flat surface. The snakebot can also rise up to climb stairs and other vertical obstacles.


The robot's laser-radar cameras scan the environment to determine the distance to every reflecting surface in 360 degrees, generating a "point cloud" of readings. Software joins the dots, turning them into a 3D model of the surroundings. From the model, the robot can determine a threat's sight line, assess and navigate toward hiding spots, and steer clear of dangerously exposed areas.


A set of four directional microphones enables the robot to detect approaching humans. By comparing the time that sounds reach each mic, the robot can calculate a threat's location, bearing and speed, and use that data to determine if it needs to hide.

Read more about the invisible warriors of the future: The engineering breakthroughs that will make everything from planes to subs to soldiers...disappear.

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