Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Field Test

FX250 -Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Field Test

What does the FX250 autonomous floor-cleaning robot and animals such as bats and dolphins have in common? They all use sonar, and in the FX250’s case a combination of sonar and LiDAR, to help them navigate their environments. These similarities are of interest because Discovery Robotics recently completed two successful field tests at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. During this time, the FX250’s map generating application and navigation algorithms were tested.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is a unique space of roughly 45,000 square feet lacking traditional 90 and 45 degree angles included in most standard architecture. The winding pathways and curved spaces form perfect areas for aquarium tanks and animal enclosures. The distinctive floor map also allows the Pittsburgh Zoo’s 10,000-12,000 daily visitors during peak seasons to experience its 9,000 animals from almost every angle. To enhance patron experience most of the spaces have either pseudo-natural (e.g. fabricated rock) or natural accents (e.g. plants). The irregular spaces and additional accents created the most dynamic floor plan challenge for the FX250 so far.

The FX250 demonstrated expert navigation and consistent mapping with the use of sonar and LiDAR. In the animal kingdom, dolphins and bats are masters of sonar. Dolphins’ sonar, also known as echolocation, can determine the difference between a golf ball and a ping-pong ball based on their differences in density alone. If that seems impressive, bats have such fine control over their sonar that they can sense the textures of different objects. Similarly, the FX250 used both sonar and LiDAR to gather location information for its mapping process. In all three cases, pulses of sound (and for the FX250, additional cues of light) are sent out, and the amount of time it takes for those pulses to return develops the map of the environment.

With this system, the FX250 expertly maps a changing environment for it to function autonomously. While bats and dolphins hunt for insects and fish, the FX250 tracks down and cleans every square foot of a building.

In addition to demonstrating reliable mapping and navigation, the FX250 successfully produced a visually clean environment. The PPG Aquarium’s flooring was a combination of commercial carpet and smooth concrete. In testing, the FX250’s vacuum effectively cleaned both flooring types. Once the FX250’s sweeper is released in the first quarter of 2019, hard surfaces like the aquarium’s concrete will have a tool specifically designed for it.

In testing, we confirmed that the FX250’s mapping process operates very well with spaces that are irregular. Spaces in the aquarium were mapped multiple times with consistent and complete navigation results. We also learned that fish are very interested in the FX250, potentially because of its sonar sensors producing noise. 

Testing in the complex and unique spaces of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium proved the robustness of the FX250’s map generating application. Please contact us via our website or at info@discovery-robotics.com for more specifics about our recent field test or with any other questions.

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