Ferret – The 3D Mapping Borehole Robot

Famous for its coal mines, southwestern Pennsylvania always has a need for inspection and evaluation of aging mine shafts, tunnels, and the like. Developed at Carnegie Mellon’s Field Robotics Institute, the Ferret robot is designed to tackle this problem and remove the need for humans to enter these dangerous, enclosed spaces. Equipped with a 2D LIDAR scanner and a low-light camera, the robot is capable of combining HDR visual imagery with 3D scan data to produce high-fidelity reconstructions of voids. Everything is fused together with an attitude estimate from an onboard IMU.

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The front end of Ferret contains a 2D SICK LIDAR, a Blackfly CMOS GigE camera, and LEDs. The entire assembly rotates in order to get a full 360 degree scan and imagery.

Above, you can see the business end of the robot, the LIDAR scanner at the bottom and the camera positioned in between two planar LED lights (in yellow). Onboard, the robot is run via an ODROID XU4 embedded linux computer running Ubuntu 14.04 and ROS Indigo. A topside Ethernet connection allows for an external laptop to initiate and monitor scans. My focus on this project was the entire software system architecture, from robot software to post processing. I also streamlined on board electronics, switching to more durable DC/DC converters and connectors to improve ruggedness of the platform.

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Topside view of recent deployment inside of a collapsed tunnel near CMU. The computer screen is showing a single HDR image sequence (2x speed).

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