Stay calm — there may be a robot right behind you. Or under your desk. Or around the corner. Lockheed Martin, the company that first developed stealth technology for planes, has transferred that technology to the ground with a robot that can avoid human detection.
"The main goal of this research is to enable robots to perform military missions more effectively," said Brian Satterfield, lead engineer on the project at Lockheed. "Approaching a location of interest without alerting the enemy is a basic capability of many missions. Some example tasks include performing surveillance or depositing a payload."
While other robots might use more conventional traveling algorithms, minimizing both distance and obstacles in order to efficiently reach their goals, Lockheed's creation is far more complex. It uses satellite imagery to create a basic map of its surroundings, then fills in the blanks with a scanning laser. This allows the robot to seek out potential hiding places, Satterfield said.
The robot, which currently has no name, looks more like half dismantled remote control car than a silent assassin. However, unlike its flying counterparts, the robot derives its stealth capability from a complex array of sensors that recognizes human footsteps and voices, not from its shape.
"The key was developing a model of the world that accurately reflected the chances of being detected by sentries," Satterfield told InnovationNewsDaily. "If the robot believed it was in danger of being detected, it would attempt to reach a hiding location."
The stealthy robot has four main missions: Avoiding detection by humans in a known location, avoiding detection by humans in an unknown location, avoiding areas where escape would be difficult, and avoiding areas that are well-lit.
Though this robot may seem perfect for playing practical jokes or performing stealthy errands, the military applications remain the primary focus.
Satterfield and his team used a sample scenario to demonstrate this, in which the robot performed covert surveillance on a building. It first designed a plan to observe the location – positioning itself near a dumpster, in case it needed cover – and then started to watch a building. Shortly afterward, a human sentry popped out from a location the robot hadn't yet seen. But all hope was not lost.
"The robot successfully detects the sentry, hides behind the Dumpster, and then reappears when the sentry is no longer detected to resume surveillance," Satterfield said.