Taiwan University students build tour guide robot

Robot can create 2D and 3D maps of its surroundings to help it maneuver

A group of engineering students and their professor at National Taiwan University, Taiwan's most prestigious university, have built a robot that can map out the area it's operating in and offer guided tours.

The robot, named "Hsiao Mei" by the group, uses laser mapping and GPS technology to navigate on its own, including around corners and obstacles such as tables and chairs.

"The mapping function is definitely its most exceptional capability," said Huang Han-pang, a professor at Taiwan University's mechanical engineering robotics lab.

The robot sends out laser light which bounces back to show the exact depth and dimensions of a room and where objects sit, similar to the way radar works, he said. It can create complete 2D and 3D maps of an area.

In the first public demonstration on Thursday, an engineering student with a wireless remote control first took the robot through a floor of a small museum on the university's campus so it could create a map for itself. After the initial run-through, the robot was able to make an unaided journey around the floor.

The robot also uses CCDs (charge-coupled device), which are electronic light sensors used in digital cameras, in its eyes to determine where people are so it can raise or lower its head in response to the height of a person and speak more directly to them.

The students also put mechanics inside the robots head to create facial expressions ranging from happy and surprised to sad and angry.

The robot is around three feet tall and moves around on wheels. An LCD touchscreen on its back shows the maps the robot has made and can display other data as well.

The robot was finished last year at a cost of NT$300,000 (US$9,100), Huang said. It can run for one or two hours before its lithium-ion batteries need recharging. Huang said they will continue to develop the robot and its guided mapping technology.

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