The best opportunity to move silently is to move when the world around you is loud. That may sound like a page out of Sun Tzu, but it's also a page out of the playbook at the CSIRO Autonomous Systems Laboratory in Brisbane, Australia.
One of their most recent developments – which doesn't even have a name yet – works on this same principle, taking advantage of loud noises in the room around them to move as unobtrusively as possible.
The robot in question therefore must be able to accomplish two purposes: it has to be able to detect noises of sufficient volume to mask its own movements, and it must move during those noises and only during those noises.
It accomplishes the first of these tasks with the help of a sensitive on-board microphone that can pick up sounds around it. But it also uses that microphone, along with some on-board processing capability, to accomplish the second task.
Not only can it identify the sounds of sufficient volume, but it can rapidly make decisions on how long that sound is likely to last, and whether or not it would be worthwhile to start making a move in that time frame.
Again, it's all about the stealth with this robot, so it both calculates how long it can move with the distracting sounds in place, and tells how far it can go before it hits a good hiding place.
It boasts both a camera and a laser scanner to spot places in which it can hide and map the terrain around it. The machine finds the best places to move so as to make the least amount of noise. For instance, the robot can tell if it's moving on gravel, smooth rock, or grass to determine just how much noise it needs to effectively mask its presence.
Uses for the robot exclude what many surely jumped to – "robot assassin" – but tend to fall in the field of nature photography. Animals may be likely to run away from the approach of a human photographer, but are less likely to run away from the camera-wielding robot they can’t as easily hear or smell.
While the idea of a stealthy robot may not have too many applications that don't sound like a page out of an action movie, it's still a clever idea, and may have other ramifications down the line that prove useful too.
Edited by Braden Becker