Friday, June 19, 2015

2015-06-18: Autonomy Incubator Shows off New Lidar

MARTI student interns use the lidar to spell "ACMY."
Not sure what that is, but we've heard it's a fun place to be.

The Autonomy Incubator (AI) recently acquired a Fotonic E70 lidar. It works similarly to radar, but whereas "radar" stands for "Radio Detection And Ranging" and uses radio waves to sense objects, " lidar uses light— in this case, from low-intensity lasers.  Lidar can be used to measure distance (among other things!) and when the data points from many laser scans are combined, the resulting point cloud is a clear picture of the surrounding area.

One of the features that gives lidar an advantage over optical cameras is its indifference to sunlight.  Some sensors are challenged by changing lighting conditions but some lidar systems work equally well at high noon as in the middle of the night.  Attached to a UAV, a lidar sensor could become part of a visual odometry system that allows the vehicle to see and react to obstacles in real time. Lidar can be combined with other sensor types for multi-modal sensing. For missions like search-and-rescue, for example, an additional thermal camera could allow the vehicle to detect body heat. 

The Fotonic E70 lidar is currently mounted on one of the AI's Hex Flyers.

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