Low-Cost Static Lidar Offers Collision Detection for Drones

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As drones become an important tool for many industries, so does the technology attached to them. Terabee is testing its low-cost lidar sensor to help avoid obstacles during a flight, even at full speed.

Founded in 2012, the French company Terabee worked in new techniques for mapping, inspection, and photogrammetry. After working in collaboration with CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) to use drones for fully autonomous inspection and 3D radiation mapping, the TeraRanger brand of distance sensors was formed in 2014.

Last year, Terabee released the inspection drone kit, which enabled drone users to monitor distance-to-target values. Now, Terabee is showing that its TeraRanger Tower, when mounted on a drone, can detect obstacles and assist with drone collision avoidance. The TeraRanger Tower is available in two versions: Tower 8 ($1200) and Tower 4 ($700), which come with 8 or 4 sensors, respectively.

The TeraRanger Tower is a combination of the TeraRanger Hub and the TeraRanger One sensors that results in a multi-axis, eye-safe, static LiDAR scanner for Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) on fast-moving ground and airborne robots. Although the TeraRanger One sensor does not monitor as many points as a traditional rotating lidar, the combination of multiple sensors can be as effective in certain situations. It is also a more affordable solution, and with its fast refresh rate the data it produces is reliable.

“There has long been a perception that to perform navigation, Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) and collision avoidance you have to “see” everything around you. So people focus on complex solutions – like stereo vision – gathering millions of data points which then requires complex algorithms and resource-hungry processing. This complexity creates scope for many failure modes!”, said Max Ruffo, Terabee’s CEO. “Many times we were told you could never do SLAM monitoring just eight points, but we proved that wrong. Now we’ve applied the same hardware module – and the same thinking – to a drone!”

For the TeraRanger Tower to work with a drone, Terabee is developing drivers to feed data to the autopilots’ object avoidance code-base. At the moment it is only a proof of concept, but Terabee is developing this further and is open to collaboration from customers and developers. In the video below you can see a demonstration of the TeraRanger Tower working together with a drone.

 

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João Antunes

IT and videogames are João's topics of interest since a very early age. Videogames, the Internet, game consoles and computers became his normal toys, as result of being the son of a journalist writing about the infancy of the Web, the games industry and hardware in general. Small game reviews published on the first Portuguese computer games magazine, back in the early 2000s ignited a passion – writing - he now pursues, along with his other interests: programming, web designing and hardware. Technology in general makes him tick.

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