NASA is working on a semi-autonomous humanoid robot to operate in the hostile space environment and establish a camp on Mars. The robot can use human tools, map its own path to Mars, and assist humans with daily activities. There’s also a good chance the robot could be used to build a moon base. The development will likely take years, perhaps even decades, to complete.
Robots See with LiDAR
For robots to operate autonomously, they need to be able to “see” their environment. LiDAR technology lets a robot function in unfamiliar and unpredictable settings. LiDAR offers high-resolution, 3D information about a robot’s surroundings, including information about objects and people. LiDAR can identify both the presence of an object and determine if it is a person.
Field of view measures the angular view captured by LiDAR sensors. It includes the horizontal and the vertical views. LiDAR sensors with full 360-degree views let a robot see while in operation. Even negative obstacles, like holes, can be detected.
Power consumption is often a bottleneck for autonomous robots. LiDAR sensors have modest power demands to help extend the robot’s battery life. 3D LiDAR sensors also reduce processing demands for deep/machine learning algorithms and GPUs.
LiDAR sensors can operate in a wide range of environments, including dry, dusty conditions and extremely high and low temperatures. LiDAR sensors can operate when oriented in any direction, including sideways and upside-down. This will be useful in the weightlessness of space and when assisting with tasks. LiDAR sensors are reliable and can be used frequently. The sensors withstand shock and vibration with low defects.
NASA’S Humanoid Robot Will Be Equipped with LiDAR
NASA hopes that its 6’2” humanoid robot, Valkyrie, will help humans colonize Mars. Weighing in at 300 lbs., it’s been tested with space-based trials, navigation of rocky terrain, and the ability to use human tools.
Inside Valkyrie’s infrared faceplate is a whirring LiDAR sensor that scans the surroundings for objects, obstacles, and people. Two Intel iCore i7 computers interpret the sensor data. Valkyrie has a one-hour battery life.
LiDAR offers both short- and long-range view. Short-range view lets the humanoid robot help with tasks. Long-range views allow robots to move faster. They can plan easier. If in a vehicle, the robot would need to see ahead at least 200 meters or more.
Valkyrie also features a MultiSense SL camera that combines laser, 3D stereo, and video. In the past, Mars robots were rovers and relied on wheels to move around. Valkyrie will be the first robot used on Mars that will replicate the human ability to walk. It’s a good thing it will be able to see where it’s going!
Learn how embedded vision systems are being leveraged in the robotics industry by visiting our Robotics Industry and Embedded Vision Systems educational section.