Wednesday, August 3, 2016

2016-08-01: Autonomy Incubator Interns Join Forces, Create Autonomous Spider Bot

Deegan Atha and Jacob Beck rehearse for their new spot in our demo lineup.

You've seen 3DEEGAN. You've seen Spider Bot. Now, two of the Autonomy Incubator's (Ai) hottest technologies join forces to take package delivery where it's never gone before: an autonomous mobile gripper equipped with computer vision and object tracking. It's the smart, lovable robot spider of the future.

Look at this friendly little guy find and hug that ball!

First of all, if you haven't read about Deegan's and Jacob's work, I'd suggest following the links at the top of the article to catch up— according to Jacob, "the best way to understand what we're doing is to talk about the individual projects first." Although his work and Deegan's are in disparate fields, Jacob emphasizes that the computer vision software and the Spider Bot were actually very easy to integrate. 

"Getting our software to talk to each other wasn't all that difficult," he said. "Deegan's sends mine the coordinates and then the robot acts on them."

Jacob tunes up the Spider Bot between tests.

"The neural net is still running on the same computer, with the lidar and everything. We're just switching the video feed to the Spider Bot," Deegan added. His software runs on a computer onboard the UAV, and uses a forward-facing camera during regular operation. For Spider Bot operations, the video feed will switch to the on-gripper camera.

"We're just changing the view of the neural network," he said.

Deegan gets the lidar and computer vision algorithm ready to go.

The main objective of integrating Deegan's software with Jacob's gripper is to enhance the level of autonomy the Spider Bot has, therefore taking many of the burdens in package delivery off of the UAV itself. Right now, picking up a package involves challenges with precision landing— challenges that are often met with workarounds like infrared sensors but that's adding structure to the environment which is something that we don't want to do in the AI. An autonomous mobile gripper changes a lot about how we approach package pick-up.

"One of the things with the vision system is that you don't need any visual markers. And with this, we don't need precision landing," Deegan explained. Once deployed, the Spider Bot gripper will find the package, lock onto it and move towards it, then lift its front legs and grab the package before winching itself back up to the UAV. 

A Spider Bot's eye view of the author's feet. Luckily, it didn't grab me.

"It looks like a hunting spider; did you draw inspiration from real spiders for this?" I asked Jacob after he and Deegan wrapped up today.

"I guess it does! Kind of, yeah," he said. "I didn't look at pictures or anything, but it does work like that."

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