Semi-autonomous exploration of multi-floor buildings with a legged robot

This paper presents preliminary results of a semi-autonomous building exploration behavior using the hexapedal robot RHex. Stairwells are used in virtually all multi-floor buildings, and so in order for a mobile robot to effectively explore, map, clear, monitor, or patrol such buildings it must be able to ascend and descend stairwells. However most conventional mobile robots based on a wheeled platform are unable to traverse stairwells, motivating use of the more mobile legged machine. This semi-autonomous behavior uses a human driver to provide steering input to the robot, as would be the case in, e.g., a tele-operated building exploration mission. The gait selection and transitions between the walking and stair climbing gaits are entirely autonomous. This implementation uses an RGBD camera for stair acquisition, which offers several advantages over a previously documented detector based on a laser range finder, including significantly reduced acquisition time. The sensor package used here also allows for considerable expansion of this behavior. For example, complete automation of the building exploration task driven by a mapping algorithm and higher level planner is presently under development.

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