The goal of the AVESA toolkit project is to combine greater autonomy with accurate mapping and visualization capabilities for use on any small UGV.
A soldier can command a small robot to enter and search a structure and return to its original location. During and upon completion of its mission, the visualization and mapping data collected by sensors aboard the robotic platforms will be transmitted and displayed to the OCU. AVESA is designed to work with a variety of sensors; while cameras form the base of the visualization tool, if a LADAR is present on the robot, then that information will be able to be displayed as well. The soldiers are then able to analyze the information prior to entering the structure. Because of AVESA’s capabilities, each soldier knows the basic structural layout, greatly enhancing the team’s situational awareness.
Small Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) have proven their usefulness in military operations and, although there have been many advances in using these vehicles, one of the key areas that is currently lacking, but could significantly increase situational awareness, is an autonomous mapping capability.
Military operations in urban areas often involve action in unknown environments such as buildings, tunnels, streets and alleys. Having access to advanced intelligence in the area of operation increases the preparedness the soldiers when the operation begins. However, conducting “sweeps” of unknown areas can results in casualties and fatalities for warfighters. Additionally, a soldiers? ability to successfully complete a mission is frequently impaired by a lack of information about a structure and/or the locations of potentially hostile individuals within that structure. A robotic mapping system that provides a realistic, high-resolution three-dimensional graphics database that clearly depicts the interior of a building, prior to soldiers entering the structure, provides a significant benefit to Army ground forces. When an unmanned platform is operated autonomously, it significantly reduces the burden of control for the user and removes one of the weakest platform control components of the small UGV system: tele-operation. Tele- operation limits the effectiveness of robots because communications with the robot can be lost, situational awareness is limited to a small video screen, requires a dedicated operator, and bandwidth constraints limit the information given to the user.
When the robot maps the building, tools are needed in order translate the raw data to an easy-to understand visualization display for the operator. This output must represent the environment, within which a small UGV traveled, in an intuitive and easily-understood way. A widely-used visualization tool consists of viewing a video stream from a platform?s camera. However, with a video stream, the user cannot easily change perspective, zoom, follow the image frames in an order other than that with which they were captured, or gain a sense of depth for objects within the image. A strong visualization tool creates a very realistic representation of the environment that the user can navigate in any way desired.
Greater autonomy aids the user by allowing automatic exploration of a structure and creation of a 3D environment describing this structure. This capability truly enables small robots to act as force multipliers by performing the automated search and mapping of the area of interest while the user has the option to complete other tasks or stay out of harm’s way.
RR’s FLASHBACK viewer, a product developed during AVESA Phase I
SPONSOR: Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC)