3D exploration of indoor spaces using UAVs
Most of the applications of UAVs are focused on exploring and investigating outdoor spaces like forests, fields and construction sites. These outdoor spaces not only have larger free space for operating the UAVs but also have better ways to localize the UAV using GPS and camera-based methods.
Recent work on indoor SLAM and 3D mapping have increased interest in UAV-based applications. Unlike a wheeled robot, a flying UAV can cover large areas faster and can go to different heights to make an accurate map of the building.
Different kinds of UAVs can be used to go through narrow indoor spaces and on different terrains like stairs and through chimneys. The use of UAVs in indoor settings opens up a whole new area of research and applications with the advantages of safety and autonomy.
Fly4Future (F4F) developed three customized platforms for Technology Innovation Institute (TII) to explore and map indoor spaces. The UAVs used 3D Lidar along with 3D cameras to find its position (localization) and map the different objects in the environment. The cameras were also used to segment different objects into categories like walls and tables etc., while on the fly. The platform used an open-source autonomy engine along with several software packages provided by the team from TII. The easy of hardware and software extensibility reduces the time spent in configuration of the system before deployment and helps the team to focus on the task at hand.
The fully-equipped platform built for Technology Innovation Institute (TII) was based on the X500 frame and had the following configuration:
- T-4114 motors
- PixHawk 4 flight controller
- Intel NUC-i7 onboard computer
- Garmin Lidar rangefinder
- 1 Ouster Lidars for mapping the indoor space
- 2 Intel Realsense RGB-D cameras for mapping
- The 3D Lidar (Ouster) and the 3D cameras are powerful sensors which provide rich 3D data about the environment.
- The pictures and video with 3D information can be used to document archaeological sites and historical buildings.
- The mobility of the UAV provides and additional advantage as the sensor can be moved to different configurations and tight spaces which is challenging for humans or even other robots.
- The UAVs can also be used for search-and-rescue missions in indoor spaces thus savings many lives.