Panasonic Develops LiDAR to Stop Robots from Awkwardly Falling Over

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 - 8:08PM
Technology
Robotics
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 - 8:08PM
Panasonic Develops LiDAR to Stop Robots from Awkwardly Falling Over
Lucasfilm
For a robot with three legs that's designed for stability, R2-D2 spends a lot of time in the original Star Wars trilogy falling over. Whether electrocuted by Jawas or simply slipping off the side of an X-Wing into a bubbling Dagobah swamp, this poor little astromech seems to have a pretty bad sense of balance.



This being the case, Artoo might want to pay attention to the development of Panasonic's new type of LiDAR technology (short for "light detection and ranging"), which will be aimed at giving autonomous robots a better ability to scan the terrain around them so that they don't constantly keel over when traversing a wobbly floorboard or a rough bit of gravel.

Traditional LiDAR that's currently used in self-driving cars works by scanning the car's surroundings constantly so that the car's robot brain is aware of obstacles and obstructions, and can negotiate around them. According to Panasonic, the limitation of this technology is that the cars don't take into account different types of road surface. This is understandable because, for the most part, these cars are only designed to drive on nice, flat asphalt that isn't too challenging for a wheeled vehicle.

The benefit to the new LiDAR for robots, claims Panasonic in a press statement on the subject, is that in addition to scanning for objects, this new variation of the technology will also pay attention to the condition of the local terrain, its roughness, angle of incline, and the condition of its surface, in order to help robots to navigate safely across ground that might not be as smooth and flat as would be ideal. According to their press statement:

Opening quote
"The wide scanning angle of the newly developed 3D LiDAR helps the detection of objects on the ground precisely as well as the roughness of the ground surface. In addition, the range of scanning angles and the resolution can be tailored precisely by adjusting the rotation angle and speed of the mirrors in the system. This feature gives users accuracy and flexibility to choose the most appropriate conditions for the measurement depending on their usage."
Closing quote


There are plenty of different robotics companies working on this kind of technology, from self-stabilizing machines that can correct its footing when horribly abused by mean humans at Boston Dynamics, to robots who can negotiate around hazards on the road to safely avoid collision.

This is all fine and good for robots that are designed with legs, but they don't help the poor underclass of wheeled droids that aren't quite as nimble or adaptable when walking on an unusual terrain.


For wheeled robots, the ability to see what's coming on the ground below, and adjust accordingly, is going to be a tremendous boon. No more awkward slips, no more tumbling down stairs, and no more getting ambushed by Jawas.

Well, okay - maybe the new LiDAR won't necessarily be able to prevent a Jawa attack. It's a nice step in the right direction, though, and good news for any poor little robot that's ever been stuck in the middle of the desert and discovered the horrors of trying to wheel across rocks and sand for miles on end, while trying to avoid being recaptured by a whiny farmboy. It still won't work in Dagobah, though.

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