In the not too distant 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 recognise as likely to lead toward a sidewalk, which in turn is likely to lead to the front door.
Source: “Technique helps robots find the front door”, Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office