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As mentioned, humans navigate the real world by using landmarks: the red barn on the way to work signals you re getting close to your turnoff. Robots can use the same kind of visual cues to help them navigate a space. Landmarks can be natural a support pillar in a warehouse for example or they can be artificial, reflectors, posts, or bar codes positioned just for use by the robot. A key benefit of landmark recognition is that most systems are easy to install, cheap, and when done properly unmistakable from the robot s point of view.
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One technique to consider is the use of wide-field bar codes, which are commonly used in warehouses for quick and easy inventory. The bar code pattern is printed very large perhaps as tall as two inches and as wide as a foot. A traditional laser bar code reader then scans the code. The large size of the bar code makes it possible to use the bar code reader even from a distance 10 to 20 feet or more. You can adapt the same method to help your robot navigate from room to room, and even within a room. For each location you want to identify, print up a large bar code. Free and low-cost bar code printing software is available over the Internet and in several commercial packages. You can either make or purchase a wide-field bar code scanner and connect it to your robot s computer or microcontroller. As your robot roams about, the scanner can be constantly looking for bar codes. The laser light output from the scanner is very
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low and, if properly manufactured, is well within safe limits even if the beam should quickly scan past the eyes of people or animals).
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Door frame flags Yet another technique that merits consideration is the use of reflective tape placed around the frames of doors. Doorways are uniquely helpful in robot navigation because in the human world we tend to leave the space around them open and uncluttered. This allows us to enter and exit a room without tripping over something. It also typically means that line of sight of the door will not be blocked, creating a reliable landmark for a robot. Imagine vertical strips of reflective tape on either side of the doorway. These strips could reflect the light from a scanning laser mounted on the robot, as shown in Fig. 38.20. The laser light would be reflected from the tape and received by a sensor on the robot. Since the speed of the laser scan is known, the timing between the return pulses of the reflected laser light would indicate the relative distance between the robot and the doorway. You could use additional tape strips to reduce the ambiguity that results when the robot approaches the doorway at an angle.
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Laser FIGURE 38.20 A scanning laser mounted on your robot can be used to detect the patterns of reflective tape located on or near doorways. Since the speed of the scan is known, electronics on your robot calculate distance (and position, given more strips) from robot to door.
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Or consider using a CCD or CMOS camera. The robot could use several high-output infrared LEDs to illuminate the tape strips. Since the tape is much more reflective than the walls or door frame, it returns the most light. The CCD or CMOS camera is set with a high contrast ratio, so it effectively ignores anything but the bright tapes. Assuming the robot is positioned straight ahead of the door, the tapes will appear to be parallel. The distance between the tapes indicates the distance between the robot and the doorway. Should the robot be at an angle to the door, the tapes will not be parallel. Their angle, distance, and position can once again be interpolated to provide the robot s position relative to the door.
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