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Bio-Inspired Robot Operates Without GPS

Bio-Inspired Robot Operates Without GPS

Researchers from Aix-Marseille University tested ant-inspired solutions to outdoor homing navigation problems on a legged robot

Ants are sensitive to polarized light and ultraviolet radiation and use it to locate themselves in space. Cataglyphis desert ants can travel for several hundreds of meters in direct sunlight in search of food and return in a straight line to the nest. The ants extraordinary navigation system relies on two sets of information: the heading measured using a sort of ‘celestial compass’ that helps to orient the ants using the sky's polarized light and the distance covered that is measured by simply counting steps and integrating the rate of movement relative to the sun measured optically through eyes. This set of information allows them to return smoothly to the nest.

Now a team of researchers from Aix-Marseille University developed a robot— AntBot—inspired by ants. The walking robot can explore its environment randomly and return to its base automatically, without GPS or mapping. AntBot replicates the navigational capabilities of the desert ants. The robot is equipped with an optical compass that is used to determine its heading through polarized light. The optical movement sensor directed to the sun is used to measure the distance covered. The team found that the robot was able to explore its environment and return on its own to its base, with an accuracy of 1 cm after travelling a total distance of 14 meters. The robot weighs 2.3 kg and has six feet for increased mobility. This allows the robot to move in complex environments.

The optical compass is sensitive to the sky's polarized ultraviolet radiation. The robot uses compass to measures its heading with 0.4° precision by clear or cloudy weather. The compass is composed of only two pixels topped by two polarized filters and is equivalent to an optical sensor composed of two rows of 374 pixels. The research received support from the Direction Générale de l'Armement, The National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region and from ANR under the Equipex/Robotex project. The research was published in the journal Science Robotics on February 13, 2019.


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