The Microsoft Kinect was a boon to robotics researchers. The cheap, off-the-shelf depth sensor allowed them to quickly and cost-effectively prototype innovative systems that enable robots to map, interpret, and navigate their environments.
But sensors like the Kinect, which use infrared light to gauge depth, are easily confused by ambient infrared light. Even indoors, they tend to require low-light conditions, and outdoors, they’re hopeless.
At the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) will present a new infrared depth-sensing system, built from a smartphone with a $10 laser attached to it, that works outdoors as well as in.
The researchers envision that cellphones with cheap, built-in infrared lasers could be snapped into personal vehicles, such as golf carts or wheelchairs, to help render them autonomous. A version of the system could also be built into small autonomous robots, like the package-delivery drones proposed by Amazon, whose wide deployment in unpredictable environments would prohibit the use of expensive laser rangefinders.