At the 2009 IEEE conference on Technologies for Practical Robot Applications which took place in Woburn, MA, the robot named ROAMS (Remotely Operated and Autonomous Mapping System) was able to map its surroundings autonomously by using a cheaper system than the conventional methods. The robot uses a few existing mapping technologies for building color 3D maps of the surroundings. The technology called LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), which is basically a laser beam emitted by the vehicle bouncing off from the surroundings thus enabling the robot to build a 3D map. A commonly used 3D Lidar system costs around $100,000. However ROAMS is able to do the task for about $15-20K. There is also a color camera on board, which adds color information to the map. The robot can also be remote controlled. For original story, please visit here.
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