Hacked Kinect makes real-time indoor mapping a breeze
If you happened to see Prometheus earlier this year, you may recall some small, ball-shaped mapping drones — nicknamed “pups” — that would go out into unknown territory and bring back data of what’s going on inside. While we can’t quite send out mapping drones just yet, this sort of thing may be closer to reality than you think.
The genius minds over at MIT used a Kinect—strapped up to a laptop, a number of sensors, and a range laser—to map out the interiors of buildings in real-time. The idea behind the mapping system, called SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) is that it would allow emergency services or military personell to map out multi-floored buildings where GPS might be unavailable, and evaluate the risk within the building.
Once strapped to your back, the SLAM laser does a 270-degree scan of your surroundings as you move through a building, while the Kinect can assess depth and other visuals. The data from the sensors, laser, and Kinect gets fed to the laptop, which creates the maps to send to the rest of the team. Each image created overlaps slightly with the one previous one to maintain a continuous view.
The laser can identify obstacles that are as far as 30 meters (about 98 feet) away, but this sometimes results in errorneous streaking on the maps. As you move around, though, the Kinect and other equipment will detect additional details about your surroundings‚ be it a dead end, staircase, or something else—to compensate for any errors. The setup can differentiate between floors too, and it knows when you might have gone up a flight of stairs or in an elevator.
Of course, the technology is far from perfect. At present, the gadget is like a backpack, but there are future plans to build this technology into a handheld device. The sensors and lasers need to be kept in a certain position in order to record accurate data; likewise the pace of the person needs to stay fairly consistent. Finally, the MIT team noticed the maps could vary slightly from one walkthrough to to the next, even if they were all of the same building.
Still, it's an impressive use of the Kinect, and in a more sophisticated form, it could one day help save lives.