'Black' robots to spy in the dark

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Spy robot approaches target building under cover of darkness.

A team at the Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Laboratories in the US has developed the “spy robot” which can approach the target building under cover of darkness, taking a zigzag path to avoid well-lit areas and sentries.

What makes the robot special is its ability to build a computer model of its surroundings, incorporating information on lines of sight, the New Scientist reported.

The robot is fitted with a laser scanner to allow it to covertly map its environment in 3D. It also has a set of acoustic sensors which it uses to distinguish nearby footsteps and their direction, according to its developers.

Lead scientist Brian Satterfield said the robot was designed to operate within four constraints. “Avoiding visible detection by sentries of known locations, avoiding potential detection by sentries whose positions were unknown, avoiding areas in which the robot would have no means of escape, and, as this robot was designed to run at night, avoiding areas that were well lit,” he said.

To make it hard to spot in the dark, the robot was painted black.

If the robot believes it is in danger of being detected by an approaching sentry, it will try to get to a place where it can hide, according to Satterfield.

The spy robot was built with off-the-shelf components say its developers.
Satterfield said specialised hardware which is more compact and quieter will improve future robots’ mobility and their ability to stay hidden.

“There are very few fundamental limits that would prevent robots from eventually conducting extended covert missions and evading detection by humans,” he said.

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