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Lobsters Teach Robots Magnetic Mapping Trick


Caribbean spiny lobster

Researchers modeled their robot's direction-finding abilities on the Caribbean spiny lobster, which is believed to have a built-in map of anomalies in the Earth's magnetic field.

Credit: outdoors.webshots.com

Computer scientist Janne Haverinen reports that a small wheeled robot was able to use a magnetic map to determine where it was in a hospital and move along a corridor without a vision system. The concept was inspired by the direction-finding ability of the Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus, which is believed to have a built-in map of local anomalies in the Earth's magnetic field.

Metal in buildings cause problems for compasses, and Haverinen's team believed the distortions of the Earth's magnetic field could be used to create a distinctive magnetic topography. "So we decided to try to use this 'magnetic landscape' — the array of disturbances — that was upsetting the compass as a map for a robot," says Haverinen, who works in the intelligent systems lab at the University of Oulu in Finland.

The team used a magnetometer to scan the magnetic field strength close to the floor in their lab and the hospital, stored the field variations in the memory of the robot, then mounted a magnetometer on a rod projecting in front of it to prevent interference from its motors. The approach has the potential to facilitate low cost navigation for domestic robots.

From New Scientist
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