MIT engineers are teaching delivery robots how to navigate to your doorstep

A team of engineers from MIT and Ford Motor Company think they might have an answer. They’ve created a technique that allows robots to navigate via clues, rather than maps. These bots promise faster and more convenient shipping for customers, but they’ve also forced tech companies to figure out the best way to safely guide the machines to your doorstep.

Mapping neighborhoods in detail beforehand is one solution, but that becomes much less reliable over time. Front yard layouts change, and it risks compromising customer privacy.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in partnership with Ford, may have found an answer to that question. MIT’s engineers recently developed a preliminary navigation method that uses environmental clues to help delivery robots plan out a route to their destination on-the-fly.

“Even if a robot is delivering a package to an environment it’s never been to, there might be clues that will be the same as other places it’s seen,” said Michael Everett, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “So the world may be laid out a little differently, but there’s probably some things in common.”

The technique uses pre-existing algorithms that looks at visual data and labels the scene with semantic clues, like “sidewalk.” The researchers used those algorithms to build a map as their robot moved around. What’s new about their approach is that they allowed the robot to make decisions and determine the most efficient path to a destination. The team will present their findings at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems this week.

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