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March of the Mapbots

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Mapping robots open the door to a completely new way of mapping, seamlessly combining indoor and outdoor data

Next time you’re admiring some snazzy architecture inside a public building be careful where you tread, the floor could be scattered with tiny robots busily mapping the space around you.

That’s the near future envisioned by global mapping firm Here Technologies, which has inked a deal to collaborate with Korea-based ‘ambient intelligence’ company Naver Labs to produce a range of autonomous 3D indoor maps.

Maps of venues and crowded spaces, such as airports, train stations and shopping centres, will be created using data collected by two cute-looking Naver robots.

The M1 robot, which looks like a cross between the film character Wall-E and an upright vacuum cleaner, will capture high-precision 3D data on the environment, using its in-built laser scanners and high-performance cameras. Maps will then be updated using information gathered by the indoor service robot Around, which resembles a cross between a BT Home Hub and a coffee grinder on wheels.

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The system will mimic the cameras, lasers and sensors fitted to cars produce high definition maps of highways and byways.

The Around bot will leverage AI-based image recognition technology to automatically recognise different venues and detect any changes that can be added to existing maps. The maps will be enhanced using Here’s existing indoor map data and made available to customers via its Open Location Platform. Initial testing work is due to begin shortly in Korea.

The maps are expected to have various uses, helping people find their way at complex transit interchanges, and helping venue managers understand and plan the logistics of their spaces to enable more efficient logistics.

In a blog post, a spokesman for Here said: ‘Commuters want to find the fastest means of traveling from A to B. People want to know where their favourite store is. Meanwhile, transport authorities want to keep foot traffic moving efficiently and logistics planners need to optimise their delivery schedules.’

The initiative forms part of Reality Index, an ambitious project to create a comprehensive and highly accurate global repository of location data. It aims to move beyond conventional mapping and seamlessly combine outdoor and indoor location data using technologies such as drones and robots.

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