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When Crawling Robots And Flying Drones Team Up, There Is No Escape

DFRobot Oct 13 2015 378

You're probably already familiar with footage of creepy, six and four-legged insectoid robots crawling over terrain with the assistance of a human operator. And most of us in large cities have seen those tiny flying drones by now.

But a new experiment pairs the efforts of the two in a way that gives the crawling robot brand new powers: the ability to travel unfamiliar territory with the help of its eye in the sky partner.

Created by a research team at ETH Zurich, the system works by first allowing the flying hexacopter drone to fly ahead and map the area, creating a high-resolution elevation map of the environment. After the travel path is mapped by the flying drone, that data is transmitted to the walking robot, allowing it to easily navigate unexpected obstacles, rough surfaces and steep slopes.

An onboard laser range sensor allows the robot to constantly update terrain data in relation to its own position, thus ensuring that even without a human hand guiding it, the robot will successfully traverse any unfamiliar path.

A look at the video (above) shows the four-legged robot making its way slowly, but the accuracy of its travel path is nevertheless impressive.
The 2000 film Mission to Mars featured a similar concept, in which an all-terrain robot (AMME) dispatched a tiny flying drone to scout nearby environments.

Of course, ETH Zurich's version is far less capable than the movie version, but that early, fictional look at what is now a very real technology offers some idea of just how powerful this drone-meets-walking robot collaboration could be in the future.