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How ship delivery robots know where they’re going

(more how to make your own 1: 8 scale paper robot model)

by: Joan Lääne, Mapping Specialist, Starship Technologies

Every September, when the new school year begins, many first graders are a little afraid of the unknown. Not only on the start of school and the new people they will meet, but also on the path they must take each day. They have to learn and remember how to navigate the world and how to get to and from their class on their own. This can be facilitated by a parent who can accompany their child on the first round trips to familiarize them with the path, usually pointing out interesting landmarks along the way, such as tall or lighted buildings or signs on the road. path. . Eventually, it will be trivial for the child to go to school and remember the way. The child will have formed a mental map of the world and how to navigate it.

Starship Technologies provides a convenient last mile delivery service with fleets of curbside delivery robots roaming the world every day. Our robots have made more than 100,000 deliveries. To get from point A to point B, robots have to plan a route in advance, which in turn requires some sort of map. Even though there are already many publicly available mapping systems such as Google Maps and OpenStreetMaps, they have the limitation that they are designed with car navigation in mind and mainly focus on car road mapping. Since these delivery robots travel on sidewalks, they need an accurate map of where it is safe to travel on sidewalks and where to cross streets, just like a child needs a mind map on the street. way to get to school safely and on time every day. So how is this map generated?

The first step in creating a map for delivery robots is to locate the area of ​​interest and generate a preliminary map (2D map) on top of the satellite imagery in the form of simple interconnected lines representing the sidewalks (green), intersections (red) and alleys. (purple) as shown in the image below.

The system treats this map as a graph of nodes and can be used to generate a route from point A to point B. The system can identify the shortest and safest path for the robot to take and also calculate the distance and route. time it would take to drive this road. The advantage of this process is that everything can be done remotely before robots physically arrive on the site.

The next step is to show the robots what the world is like. Similar to the parent-child analogy, bots need a bit of a hand the first time they explore an area. When the robot first drives, the cameras and a multitude of sensors on the robot collect data about the world around it. These include thousands of lines that come from sensing the edges of different features, for example buildings, street light poles and roofs. The server can then create a 3D world map offline from these lines which the robot can then use. Like the child, the robot now has a model of the world with guide poles and it can understand where it is at any time.

Since our robots have to cover different areas at the same time to make all their deliveries, to be effective, various maps need to be put together to create a unified 3D map of a given area. The unified map is created piece by piece by processing the different pieces of the new area until finally the map looks like a huge completed puzzle. The server will assemble this card based on the row data previously collected by the robot. For example, if the same roof was detected by two robots, the software determines how it connects to the rest of the board. Each colored line in the image below represents a single part of a map path added to the map.

The last step in the mapping process, before the robots can drive fully autonomously, is to calculate exactly where and how wide the sidewalk is. This is created by processing the camera images that the robot has recorded while exploring the area as a reference and incorporating the 2D map created previously based on the satellite imagery.

During this process, more details are added to the map to precisely define the safe zones in which the robots can drive.

Of course, the world around us is not static. There are daily and seasonal changes in the landscape, constructions and renovations, which change the appearance of the world. How could this affect the areas mapped for robots? In fact, the robot’s software handles small to medium changes in the mapped area quite well. 3D models are robust enough and filled with such amounts of data that a downed tree here or a downed building there does not usually pose a challenge to the robot’s ability to locate its position or use the map. Additionally, as the robot moves each day, it continues to collect more data which is used to update 3D maps over time. But if an area is completely remodeled or new sidewalks are built, the solution is simple. The map needs to be updated with new data collected by a robot. Then other robots can again drive autonomously in the same area as if nothing had happened. Updating the maps is crucial for the robots to continue driving safely and independently.

As you can probably tell by now, I really enjoy playing with the concepts of 3-dimensional space. Since playing the first 3D first person shooter computer game (Wolfenstein 3D), the world of 3D in the digital realm has become an interest of mine. I wanted to create my own 3D worlds for computer games, so I found ways to tweak existing game levels. Later I also tried 3D computer modeling which I found interesting. With the popularization and affordability of 3D printers, I also began to physically print models. But long before that, during summer vacation, I loved making paper models of different buildings and vehicles. It was an easy and inexpensive way to create something with my own hands, but it was also interesting to see how a 2D layout on a piece of paper, with a little bit of cutting, folding and gluing, can transform into 3d model. Basically, papercrafting a 3D object or “unfolding” is, in a sense, the reverse of mapping. It creates the 2D layout of the surface of a 3D object.

As I am passionate about paper, I decided to create one for our Starship delivery robots. The purpose of this model is to allow others who might enjoy the same passions as me to create their own version of our delivery robots. Creating a paper model is a fun challenge, and when done it also makes a nice decorative item. As with generating 3D maps for the robot, creating a papercraft model requires precision, accuracy, and spatial thinking about how all the parts fit together. Also a little patience.

I have created some instructions for you to make your own papercraft delivery robot and would love to see your efforts. Have fun and good luck creating your own paper model of delivery robot!

Please post a photo of your robot on Instagram and tag @StarshipRobots so I can find them!

Please find the Starship Delivery Robot papercraft model and instructions here

© Starship Technologies. The design of the Starship® Delivery Robot and the appearance of the technologies described are proprietary and protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws.


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