naperlou, I was also interested to see the Kinect motion sensing camera/system used in aiding with 3D mapmaking. To me, when I read this it was one of those "of course" moments. The team also used laser scanners in a previous rev of this project.
It is interesting that this robot uses the Kinect camera system rather than the complex sensors used in the past. It seems that as we continuously develop vision processing that it becomes more useful. It is also often less expensive. Sometimes it is very inexpensive. I have an older BlackBerry Curve. It uses a trackball. I have replaced the trackball. It cost about $2.50. Newer models use a low resolution camera in place of the trackball. It only has to sense the direction of movement, not any other details. So, it works fine and is longer lived than the trackball. It is also simpler to build and probably cheaper to install. Any software cost is amortized over all the devices sold, so that is near zero. This is the same with the robot.
I have seen the robots with multiple laser sensors and sonar or radar. These were fantastically expensive and still not as good as a human operator. Humans use vision. Perhaps the MIT researchers are on to something here.
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