The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) is the recipient of a $320,000 grant to fund the development of technology to enable robots to navigate unknown environments.
The funding, awarded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), will be provided over three years with $100,000 allocated in 2012 and $110,000 in the two years to follow.
UTS’ Professor of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, Gamini Dissanayake, told Computerworld Australia the project would involve the development of algorithms that will enable the deployment of robots in environments populated with people and in search and rescue operations where a global positioning system (GPS) is not available.
“This project focuses on developing algorithms for automatically building maps of unknown environments so that robots can carry out tasks such as search and rescue missions on their own,” he said.
“Imagine the scenario where you visit an office, look around and make a sketch of what you observe,” he said. “You can give this ‘map’ to a colleague and explain to him/her where things are and how to find their way around in this office. Now consider the situation where you enter a collapsed building where the environment is much more complex and disorderly, you now need a three dimensional map to decide how to move around… If a robot can do this, the information it collects can be used to minimise the risk to search and rescue personnel.”
According to Dissanayake, the work will build upon previous work on the “problem” he refers to as the “simultaneous localisation and mapping problem (SLAM)”, where a robot has to work out where it is and what its environment looks like without the help of a GPS, which does not work inside buildings or underwater.
“Recent work by our team has shown that the SLAM problem has some special properties,” he said. “Research funded by this grant will further explore these properties and develop algorithms that use low-cost sensors yet able to quickly and reliably solve this complex problem.”
The project will be headed up by UTS’ lecturer from the centre for autonomous systems, Dr Shoudong Huang. He will work alongside Dissanayake and use the funding to employ a research fellow and a PhD student to contribute to the project. It will also support overseas travel to publicise the results of the project.
Dissanayake also hopes the technology will be commercialised down the track. “We expect that the project outcomes will enable us to secure an industry funded project for commercialising this technology within the next three years,” he said.
The grant is one of many awarded by the ARC in its 2012 major grants announcement with both the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the Australian National University (ANU) also award recipients.
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