February 15 : Antbot - The First Walking Robot that moves without GPS !!
Desert ants are known to be extraordinary solitary navigators. These ants became the source of inspiration for researchers to design a robot called The Antbot. The robot is considered to be the first walking robot of its kind that can explore its environment randomly and then go back home automatically without GPS or mapping. The innovation has now opened the doors for new strategies for navigation in autonomous vehicles and robotics.
Unlike other ants, Cataglyphis desert ants cannot use pheromones to come back to their homes. Instead, they are known to have the ability to cover several hundreds of meters in direct sunlight in the desert to look for their food and then come back in a straight line to their nest without getting lost. Their special navigation talent relies on 2 pieces of information -
The heading is measured using a sort of celestial compass to align themselves using the sky's polarized light and the distance covered, measured by simply counting steps and incorporating the rate of movement relative to the sun measured optically by their eyes. Upon studying this behavior researchers noted that distance and heading were the two fundamental pieces of information that once combined allowed them to return smoothly to the nest.
As for the Antbot, the newly designed robot by CNRS and Ai-Marseille University (AMU) researchers at ISM, imitated the desert’s ant’s exceptional navigation capacities. It is equipped with an optical compass used to determine its heading by means of polarized light, and by an optical movement sensor directed to the sun to measure the distance covered.
By being provided with this information, Antbot, just like the dessert ants now has the ability to explore its environment and return on its own to its base with the precision of up to 1 cm after having covered a total distance of 14 meters. Weighing only 2.3 kg, this robot has 6 feet for increased mobility allowing it to move in more complex environments, specifically where deploying wheeled robots and drones, may face trouble in going further. (like disaster zones, rugged terrain etc).
The optical compass developed by the scientists is highly sensitive to the sky’s polarized ultraviolet radiation. Using this celestial compass, Antbot can measure its heading with 0.4° precision by clear or cloudy weather
The compass is composed of only 2 pixels topped by two polarized filters that are the equivalent to an optical sensor composed of two rows of 374 pixels. By turning the filters mechanically, this has become an innovation that has decreased the sensor’s production a cost significantly from over 78000 euros to only a few hundred euros within the constraints of biometrics.