Mobile outdoor robots offer secure exploration of dangerous environments. Many tasks like urban rescue scenarios, detection of pipeline defects or observation require small off-the-road rovers equipped with specialized sensors. In this context, the successor of Merlin (Mobile Experimental Robot for Locomotion and Intelligent Navigation), Outdoor MerlinTM was developed and optimized for rough outdoor environments by a reinforced chassis with good ground clearance. The Ackerman steering in combination with a powerful electric motor, 4-wheel drive and driving assist feature enables a high maximum velocity, even in rough and hazardous terrain.
Outdoor Merlin™ consists of a chassis, a micro-controller board, running an in-house developed operating system, a low power embedded PC and different sensors, like ultra-sonic range sensors, laser-range-finder, GPS-receiver, gyroscope, tilt-sensor or cameras. Its modular design allows rapid adaptation to new sensors, actuators and assistance systems. Additional payloads can be installed and controlled using common interfaces. Different grades of autonomy and driving assistant functions were implemented in order to support a human operator, including obstacle detection/avoidance and autonomous returning features after connection loss.
Because of its capabilities, Outdoor MerlinTM is an excellent platform for indoor, as well as outdoor experiments. Ongoing and completed research topics include:
• path planing and path tracking in outdoor environment
• obstacle detection and avoidance in unstructured areas
• navigation in unknown territory
• autonomous operation
Furthermore, Outdoor Merlin™ is used as mobile sensor in the project “Bio-Sensor Networks for Large Area Environment Monitoring”.