MIT’s Technique helps Robots find the Front door

In the near future, robots may be dispatched
as last-mile delivery vehicles to drop your takeout order, package, or meal-kit subscription
at your doorstep — if they can find the door. Standard approaches for robotic navigation
involve mapping an area ahead of time, then using algorithms to guide a robot toward a
specific goal or GPS coordinate on the map. While this approach might make sense for exploring
specific environments, such as the layout of a particular building or planned obstacle
course, it can become unwieldy in the context of last-mile delivery. Imagine, for instance, having to map in advance
every single neighborhood within a robot’s delivery zone, including the configuration
of each house within that neighborhood along with the specific coordinates of each house’s
front door. Such a task can be difficult to scale to an
entire city, particularly as the exteriors of houses often change with the seasons. Mapping every single house could also run
into issues of security and privacy. Now MIT engineers have developed a navigation
method that doesn’t require mapping an area in advance. Instead, their approach enables a robot to
use clues in its environment to plan out a route to its destination, which can be described
in general semantic terms, such as “front door” or “garage,” rather than as coordinates
on a map. For example, if a robot is instructed to deliver
a package to someone’s front door, it might start on the road and see a driveway, which
it has been trained to recognize as likely to lead toward a sidewalk, which in turn is
likely to lead to the front door. The new technique can greatly reduce the time
a robot spends exploring a property before identifying its target, and it doesn’t rely
on maps of specific residences.

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