Wearable Sensor Helps Map Environment
September 25, 2012

Wearable Sensor Array Helps Map User’s Immediate Environment

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

MIT researchers have developed a prototype sensor array that can be worn on the chest to automatically map out an environment surrounding the wearer.

The wearable sensor system can create a digital map of the environment that the person who is using it is moving in.

During experiments, students wore the sensor system while wandering halls at MIT. The sensors wirelessly relayed data back to a laptop in a conference room, and observers in the room were able to track the student's progress on a map.

A handheld pushbutton device is connected to the sensors, giving the wearer the ability to annotate the map. Pressing the button designates a particular location as a point of interest.

Previous systems have enabled robots to map out their environments, but the concept of placing the device on a human required some modifications.

The researchers equipped the device with their sensor platform, accelerometers and gyroscopes, and a camera. They also added a barometer in one group of experiments to detect changes in air pressure.

The gyroscopes added were able to determine when the rangefinder was tilted and the accelerometers helped provide information about the wearer's velocity, as well as information about changes in altitude.

Maurice Fallon, a research scientist in MIT´s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and lead author of the new paper, told redOrbit in an email that one day, the device could be used for emergency responders.

"For example locating the responder as they explore the building, and providing that position to the commanding fire chief," Fallon told redOrbit. "The chief can then direct the responder more efficiently."

In another example, he said police could use the sensor system for "quickly carrying out crime scene reconstruction."

Emergency responder situations were not the only applications Fallon envisioned this device being used. He told redOrbit that real estate agents could one day use it to build "3D models of homes and apartments for virtual viewings."

Also, environmentalists could use the device to capture and simulate airflow and heat loss through 3D models.

Next on the agenda of the researchers is to enable it to scale very large environments in real-time without limit, according to Maurice.

"To add robustness to more aggressive motion, for example by more heavily using 3D sensors such as stereoscopic cameras and motion sensors - even the Microsoft Kinect," he told redOrbit. He also said they plan "to incorporate higher level information into these maps: doorways, room numbers, the purpose of the room, location of furniture, etc."