We asked Dr Andrew West, PDRA on the TORONE project, to explain to us how our robot sees the world around it in order to successfully manoeuvre around. Here's what he had to say:
It is expected that robots are capable of avoiding obstacles, from vacuum cleaner robots avoiding table legs, to driverless cars avoiding pedestrians. The TORONE project has the same need to ensure the robot will not bump into anything as it remotely inspects nuclear environments. There are many sensors which enable robots to make sense of the world around them, but the TORONE project mainly relies on one particular type, lidar.
Lidar uses the same concepts as radar or sonar to measure distances to objects, but instead of using radio (radar) or sound (sonar) it uses laser light. Pulses of light are sent out, bounce off an object, and a portion of that pulse returns back to a sensor. By measuring the time taken for the light to travel to the object and back, it is possible to estimate the distance to that object (as the speed of light is constant). By sending laser pulses in many directions, a lidar sensor can generate an impression of the objects around it based on these distances. As laser light can travel long distances, the robot can "see" into the distance and if an obstacle is approaching change course well in advance. A major benefit of lidar is the capability to be used over long ranges, but also that it works in the dark. Many nuclear environments may be poorly lit or not lit at all, rendering cameras tricky to use without banks of lights on the robot. A downside of lidar is their cost, as a typical sensor may cost anywhere from £1,000 to £10,000+, especially when compared to a simple webcam around <£100, the use of lidar can be seen as costly. For the challenges facing the TORONE project however, lidar sensors offer a superior solution to allowing the robot to be able to know about the world around it.
If you are interested in the other technology we employ on the TORONE project, have a look at our Technologies page to look at the variety of sensors thawt will be deployed on our robot.
If you would like to find out more about Dr Andrew West, or any of our other researchers, you can check out our Team page