A robotics researcher is sending drones where few have gone before – create digital

One case in which it has shone has been stope mapping, replacing old cavity monitoring systems a camera or lidar on a boom, inserted manually into a passage by a worker.

The onboard lidar and the SLAM simultaneous location and mapping algorithms allow a drone to operate inside a virtual safety sphere and avoid collisions while collecting 300,000 points per second through a constantly-spinning Velodyne puck lidar, creating a point cloud.

Data is logged onboard and processed afterwards at half the speed of the capture time.

Hovermap also has potential in search and rescue, asset inspection and other scenarios.

In the year since it started with $3.5 million in seed funding, Emesent has grown its team from seven ex-CSIRO members Hrabar and CTO Farid Kendoul are co-founders to 20 full-timers.

It has also established distribution channels, including in China, Japan, South Korea and the US, and is a key part of the only Australian team to qualify for the three-year DARPA Subterranean Challenge, which pushes teams to drive novel approaches and technologies to map, navigate, and search underground environments.

Its been a crash course in business, too, for Hrabar, who began his tertiary studies as a mechanical engineer at the University of Cape Town.

Towards the end of his bachelors degree, Hrabar developed an interest in connecting computers with machinery.

For my final project I ended up building an automated warehouse system out of Lego, but it was controlled from a computer. I was reading in barcodes from a scanner and controlling the warehouse, so it was scanning barcodes of products and then packing them on shelves and keeping track of inventory, he told create.

I think from early on I was interested in that connection. And then I actually was interested in doing animatronics.

Animatronics turned out to be puppetry, at the end of the day, and the lack of intelligence in the automatons meant he lost interest.

However, following a year as a consulting engineer in London, Hrabar did end up creating a quarter-scale, animatronic aardvark as part of his mechanical engineering masters.

Its movement was enabled by hobby servos and controlled by a Handy Board microcontroller. The animatron featured in a National Geographic wildlife film.

While completing his degree, Hrabar also took in two years of computer science studies to fulfil the prerequisites for beginning a PhD in robotics at the University of Southern California. His PhD work focused on stereo vision and optic flow for drone collision avoidance, working with petrol-powered, single-rotor drones.

Post-PhD, most of the drone work in the US at the time was in defence, said Hrabar. The required security clearance was not easy to achieve for a non-US citizen.

A 2004 research internship at CSIRO in Brisbane working with Peter Corke (now Director at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision and then a lab director at CSIRO) led to a move to Australia to work as a research scientist.

He worked with a group making drones smarter, while another focused on SLAM.

The next logical step was to put the two together, so that we could do SLAM on the drone in real time to help it navigate and collect that data for offline processing after the flight, he recalled.

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A robotics researcher is sending drones where few have gone before - create digital

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