Add snowblowing to the list of jobs robots are taking over

In Danehy Park. WBZ talked to the MIT engineer who built it.

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Blower

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Cool invention for the suburban driveway. What happens in the city when it gets jammed by running over trash/dirty diapers?

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I am not ok with this

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Haven't comic books and movies taught us the dangers of this yet?

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Good post Adam

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Time to buy a van and spray paint "Robot Repair" on the side.

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snow

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I, for one, look forward to serving our robot overlords. -Kent Brockman

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Stupidest article ever.

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Stupidest article ever.

the remotely operated snowblower is a “labor of love” that took him about three months to build starting last winter.

“I don’t terribly enjoy being out in the cold, so this is a remotely operated snowblower,” he said. “It features a vision system, obstacle avoidance,

OK, so is it remotely operated or autonomous? Two different things. If it does feature a vision system and obstacle avoidance, how exactly do they work? What sensors are they using for obstacle avoidance? Or by "vision system" do they mean "a WiFi camera"?

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"pure remote" and "obstacle avoiding" modes available

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Anon asked:

so is it remotely operated or autonomous?

Answer: Both. (Sort of.)

From the WBZ article:

[Inventor Dane Kouttron]'s using a remote control during his tests, but the snowblower can also be programmed to work independently. “It can take in a bunch of GPS positions and take care of cleaning a parking lot by itself,” he says.

The rest of the WBZ article makes it sound like the device's autonomous functionality is probably pretty limited (the creator suggests that it can do a parking lot by itself, then talks about remotely piloting it in the context of a sidewalk or driveway).

The inventor responded to the twitter thread with a link to the page on his website describing the project: DK LABORATORIES: Chomper: Electric Obstacle Avoiding Snowblower

(Adamg also linked to it below.)

The "Chomper" page goes into the semi-autonomous/safety features a bit more, eg:

The problem:

Version 1 Observations and Thoughts:
What Needed Improvement:

...

  • Having a safety mechanism for detecting live obstacles and stopping the impeller would be excellent, kinda concerned about pets / random animals running at the robot and getting... eaten.

The solution:

Thermal Vision and obstacle avoidance

So, one of the more significant issues i wanted to solve was avoiding 'snowblowing' things that were not snow. Nominally, warm things are easy to pick out against a cold background, so why not evaluate thermal-vision? For thermal vision I started with an AMG8833 thermal sensor.

and

Controls wise, I wanted the ability to select between pure remote control and 'obstacle avoiding' remote control. To do so eaisly I opted for a four pole switch that connects the motor controller servo signaling lines to either the radio reciever directly, or, through outputs stemming from the vision feedback system. The thermal system feedback also is passed through to a smal LCD display, mostly to verify thermal imaging and correct sensor operation.

and

What do we actually want for obstacle avoidance?

Now that we can read the thermal sensor into an array, whats a reasonable way to use the data? Nominally its easier to differentiate hot objects as long as the environment is not also hot. For instance if the ambient environment is exactly body temperature thermal obstacle avoidance wouldnt be very effective. So we start with an ambient background temperature measurement. If The ambient is greater than a threshold it'd be useful to inform the operator that the thermal avoidance is not available. If the ambient is cold enough such that its easy to discern hot targets, we can next bin for any measurements greater than a human-body temperature threshold. If we do see measurements greater than or equal to human body temperature, we can also throw an indicator that an object was detected.

...

What are some actions that can be taken? We can set a percentage FOV required to shut off the impeller. This threshold should be a fairly conservative value, such that if a small dog or animal runs nearby the impeller itself will be powered down. A seperate threshold can be used to prevent the snowblower from driving into hot objects, like if a child or animal is in front of the path of the machine.

and

What about RADAR?
Here's a quick clip of testing out TI's new 60GHZ monstrosity, ahem, electronically scannable radar module. It actually works quite well, i had more issues recording the computer screen than the video actually shows. Unfortunatley it seems to have issues with threshold levels in a heavily damp environment.

I hope that helped clear up a little of your confusion. :-)

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