Inside Unmanned Systems

DEC 2018 - JAN 2019

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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GROUND SENSOR RESEARCH 40  December 2018/January 2019 unmanned systems inside B ats can f ly dexterously in the dark in large part be- cause echolocation—the biological version of the so- nar that submarines rely on—helps them even when the night blinds them. Now researchers have created what they said is the first robot to truly use echolocation like a bat to help it explore the world autonomously. This research could help lead to unmanned systems that can navigate even when they cannot 'see', that is rely on visual sensors, to the benefit of both f lying drones and driverless cars. MECHANICAL BAT To echolocate, bats emit chirps and listen to the echoes of those sounds to glean information about their surround- ings from the ref lected sound waves. Bats' echolocation ability routinely helps them simultaneously map and navigate through new areas—"engineering prob- lems that are currently very difficult to solve," said Itamar Eliakim, a graduate student at the mechanical engineering department of Tel Aviv University in Israel. There have been many prior attempts to use echolocation to help robots map and navigate on land. However, these did not move autonomously. Instead, pilots used the sonar data to drive the robots. Moreover, whereas bats emit chirps from their throats and depend on just two ears to hear echoes, previous research mimicking bats usually relied on arrays of multiple speakers and multiple microphones. Now, Eliakim and his colleagues have developed "Robat," a robot that uses sonar like a bat to help it navigate autono- mously. "Getting inspiration from animals can lead to new solutions," said Yossi Yovel, an assistant professor of zoology at Tel Aviv University. PROWLING THE GROUND The prototype Robat does not f ly, but rolls across the ground using the Komodo platform from Israel-based RoboTiCan. The robot was equipped with an ultrasonic speaker that imi- tated a bat's mouth and two ultrasonic microphones spaced seven centimeters apart that mimicked bat ears that were all mounted on a DJI Ronin gimbal. Whereas previous work involving airborne sonar for robots depended on speakers that each broadcast a narrow range of sound frequencies, Robat emitted a wide range of ultrasonic signals just like bats do. The echoes of those signals convey rich amounts of information about the objects and surfaces they bounce off. This helped Robat navigate with just one emitter in- stead of several. In experiments where Robat moved at roughly a meter a minute, after every 30 seconds or so, it stopped and gave three chirps, each 10 milliseconds long, while aiming its speaker at three different angles. This helped the robot scan out to a range of about six meters. All photos courtesy of Itamar Eliakim, Yossi Yovel et al. New sonar technology could one day help drones and driverless cars navigate. by Charles Q. Choi CAN HELP A ROBOT NAVIGATE B-LIKE SONAR Yossi Yovel, an assistant professor of zoology, Tel Aviv University WE CAN SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF AUTONOMOUS NAVIGATION USING SOUND LIKE BATS DO." "

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