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  Precision Tunnel Mapping

This diagram depicts an operator control unit(OCU) using sensor data and localization information to render vehicle-centric texture map models or point clouds in real-time, and high quality 3D texture mapped models in near real-time.

Stereo Visual Odometry
Lidar ICP
Data association
Low light operation
3D reconstruction

Diagram: stereo and lidar technology for optimal localization and mapping capabilities.

Using robots to explore and investigate tunnels makes sense for miners, warfighters and border security personnel.  The immediate applications of this project will utilize the robot acquisition and delivery of accurate 3D maps of the tunnel environment.

Mining: Accurate 3D maps are essential to key characterization tasks such as identifying tunnel entry and exit points, or calculating the volume of the earth removed. Mining and Energy customers request similar capabilities in their operations. However, using robots to make accurate 3D tunnel maps is not a simple task. Challenges include difficult environmental conditions; small SWaP targets; the need for intuitive 3D driving models for teleoperation and autonomy; and the difficulties of globally registering long underground tunnels from a single entry point. Traditional unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) approaches to localization and mapping that use GPS and/or high grade inertial motion units (IMU’s) and gyroscopes are not feasible. GPS is unavailable underground, and high grade IMU’s and gyroscopes do not meet the stringent SWaP targets.

Defense: The system's function is to provide a platform capable of carrying a small sensor package while navigating and overcoming terrain obstacles inside the tunnel. Counter tunnel technologies are needed to support intelligence gathering and safety of troops and personnel in unmapped and unknown tunnel environments. The system is the initial step in achieving a fully autonomous counter tunnel system.

Soldiers tasked with assessing karezes (Wiki Definition - primitive irrigation passages used in western Asia) have found that insurgents use these tunnels to store or smuggle weapons and IEDs. Such discoveries have forced the US Army to develop a new strategy and set of tools for safely investigating the tunnels, which draw heavily on technologies like subterranean robots and airborne imaging developed by the mining industry.

Homeland Security:
With 129 tunnels detected under U.S. borders since 1990, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Northern Command, the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies formed the rapid reaction tunnel detection joint capability technology demonstration in 2010.

Our team already created a custom sensor and computing pod that produces high quality localization and 3D models of tunnels for live, real-time teleoperation of robotic vehicles in an underground mining operation – the core task required here. Our technology already achieves the target performance metrics in zero light, environmentally challenging conditions without requiring an IMU or GPS.

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