CSIRO builds robotic 'receptionist'

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CSIRO builds robotic 'receptionist'
Bryan Huang with his blimp. Credit: CSIRO

Doughnut-shaped blimp could guide guests through building.

CSIRO researchers have developed a floating, doughnut-shaped blimp that could one day guide its visitors from room to room.

The one-metre wide blimp features three propellers, infrared sensors, a pressure sensor, accelerometer, compass, and on-board CC430 micro-controller.

It was designed to communicate with nodes in a wireless sensor network planned for the CSIRO's Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies.

According to research engineer Phil Valencia, nodes would be deployed at ten-metre intervals from the centre's reception area to various wings of the three-story building.

CSIRO planned initially to deploy ten nodes this month. The nodes would be deployed independently of the blimp project, and would be used for other pervasive computing research in the facility.

The blimp was developed by Queensland University of Technology student Bryan Huang as part of his summer vacation scholarship with the CSIRO.

It sidestepped the usual challenge of having a robot simultaneously determine its location and map its surroundings by comparing information from nearby nodes against an on-board map of the facility.

"It's an application of what's known as pervasive computing," Valencia said.

"With these tiny smart wireless sensors all around the place measuring things, sending data and making decisions, you end up with a kind of embedded intelligence."

Valencia did not expect the CSIRO to continue developing the blimp after Huang's departure; however, it could be used to usher visitors from reception to meeting rooms if it worked well.

"It [the blimp] is not one of our long-term project aims, [but] if we get the whole thing navigating reliably, we'll talk to the receptionist," he said.

"It's always nice to have a bit of a show-off of what we can do."

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