TecInnov is a competition that aims to support the development of innovative ideas from students and researchers at Instituto Superior Técnico. This annual initiative is a partnership with Tales, a European company that works in several areas (defense, mobility, transportation and information systems) and it’s also where the idea for Walkbot was born.
Walkbot is an acquisition system that allows the collection of data from mobility indicators in order to evaluate the state of urban sidewalks. “Usually the condition of a sidewalk is monitored through the evaluation of certain factors, like its decline, if it has any holes, the distances between obstacles and walls, and several other factors. All these very specific guidelines are measured by professionals in order to make sure that the sidewalk can be easily accessed by everyone, but in practice there aren’t enough professionals or time to do this evaluation correctly. “What happens is that usually, the assessment is too subjective and not very well regulated.” ISR-Lisboa researcher Miguel Costa explained that the Walkbot was designed to facilitate this gathering of data and to lead this evaluation towards a more objective path.
Recently the Walkbot gained a more physical presence since it’s now a holdable device that could easily be aggregated, for instance, to a mail delivery or street cleaning vehicle, facilitating a constant evaluation of the urban pavement. In terms of industrial application the team did face some issues during the development of the project. “We wanted to complement the singular evaluation of the sidewalk with a more connected interface in order to monitor complete urban areas. Using GPS for that connected network proved to be both particularly useful and hard to program in that environment. If we want to be active in solving pressing issues the GPS comes in handy specifically to know in which street or part of it the problem is located. But this proved to be very complicated to perfect and sort of secondary to the main goal.”
The team eventually decided to abandon the industrial version of Walkbot and keep working on it with academically oriented intentions. “Its mobility indicators are extremely important factors for road management or route systems, specifically when it comes to accessibility. The Walkbot has very interesting technical features, for instance, its use of point clouds and the process of merging them itself. These point clouds are composed by specific points in a space to indicate a certain distance. And that arrangement is fascinating to study and develop and could be used in a whole range of other systems related to data acquirement.”