A group of researchers from ETH Zurich recently unveiled their successful creation of innovative rock-stacking robots that utilize 3D scanners. A 3D scanner is integrated onto a robot along with a camera where the two essentially serve as the robot’s eyes, helping guide the robot and where it positions the rocks. First revealed by the team in Singapore at the 2017 International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), the robots are currently capable of 3D scanning a specific rock, picking it up and stacking it in the place it calculates as the best fit position based of the scanned data from rocks already stacked.
The research team believes that, upon further development, the robots can one day be used to help build habitats on Mars. Aside from this, members of the team are also confident that one day the product will be to do a variety of things such as clearing rubble, building breakwaters and build large structures (presumably with rock/stone). The system is able to successfully stack rocks due to the use of 3D scanning technologies – the 3D scanned data from each scanned object is stored internally and the robot is actually able to simulate how and where each rock should be place within a virtual environment. After finding a successful simulation, the robotic system is then able to mimic the simulation and successfully stack the rocks.
Although it clearly needs some more development and experimentation, the robotic system ma one day reap many benefits. Traditional systems that have been used to do similar tasks have, more often than not, failed to work with irregularly shaped objects such as the rocks referenced above. The research team is now working to develop this robotic system further, with their goal being to create a much more advanced system that has the ability to work with objects that are either unidentified or just partially identified by the 3D scanner such as walls, arches and much more.