Located within Turin’s old defensive walls, the Pietro Micca Museum holds great historical significance for the city. It is a commemoration of the pivotal Siege of Turin in 1706. Today, visitors are offered a captivating journey through the museum to explore a vast collection of artifacts, historical documents, and interactive exhibits that narrate the events of the siege.
While the Pietro Micca Museum is open to the public, some of its tunnels still remain unexplored. These narrow and dark passageways can be difficult and dangerous for human exploration. Furthermore, communications from the tunnel to the outside pose significant challenges, particularly during emergency situations.
To overcome this challenge, a group of researchers from PIC4SeR from Politecnico di Torino are striving to advance autonomous exploration with unmanned ground vehicles that are capable of navigating the intricate sections of the tunnels while simultaneously assessing the conditions of its walls. By doing so, they aim to facilitate further inspection of these passageways, with the ultimate goal of making them accessible to the public in a safe and secure manner. Additionally, this versatile system could be used in similar environments that necessitate autonomous navigation.
Exploring the Unknown with Jackal UGV
The team wanted to develop a comprehensive system consisting of a base station and a robot, enabling the exploration of unknown tunnel conditions. For this project, they chose Jackal UGV as a base for their system. Jackal was the ideal choice due to its compact size, making it easily deployable in narrow tunnels. It’s also a reliable and robust platform that allows for integration of various sensors and algorithm benchmarking.
The team equipped Jackal with a variety of sensors to ensure its successful journey through the tunnels. An LED light was installed to illuminate the path. A 2D LiDAR was integrated to measure the distance between the tunnel’s walls, enabling the robot to stay centered while simultaneously collecting data for a 2D map. Additionally, an RGB camera was added to provide real-time monitoring and potential manual control from the base station. For a comprehensive view, a 360° video camera was installed to capture various angles of the tunnels for post analysis. Real-time 3D mapping was achieved using a Kaarta system, while a 3D portable scanner generated a detailed point cloud representation of the scanned area.
Point clouds of the tunnels:
The project focused on three main elements: algorithm testing, tunnel mapping and radio communication. In the initial phase, the team evaluated the performance of navigation algorithms by conducting field tests to assess the reliability of the algorithms in the real-world, validating behavior beyond simulation scenarios.
For the second part, the team used a range of tools to acquire scans of the galleries to compare the acquired data to gain insights on accuracy of the mapping process. Lastly, they developed a robust radio communication system made of repeaters that were strategically positioned to extend the communication range as much as possible, enhancing coverage and ensuring effective communication in challenging underground conditions.
Mastering Underground Expeditions
This project allowed the team to assess their navigation algorithms designed for tunnel exploration in a real-world setting where standard positioning systems typically fail and radio communication is difficult. Furthermore, the insights gained from this project enabled the team to adapt and apply a portion of the algorithms to similar outdoor environments using a Clearpath Husky UGV but with different strategies.
“Partnering with Clearpath has allowed us to use the same software architecture, ROS nodes, and simulators on different applications avoiding duplication of work,” said Professor Marcello Chiaberge, coordinator of the PIC4SeR Interdepartmental Centre. “Our research team was enthusiastic about Jackal UGV since it is a robust platform and is perfect for critical missions where reliability is key.”
Take a journey with Jackal through the tunnels of Pietro Micca Museum: