Robotics has gotten a bit spoiled over the last 8 years in sensing; we now have low cost Kinect-style depth cameras for indoor robots and hyper-expensive laser rangefinders (LRFs) for autonomous cars that sport 30-60+ independent laser beams. But we're still lacking a commercially-available, low-cost, long-range LRF (sub-$500, 15m+ range) -- a gap that is absolutely crucial for robots doing navigation and mapping in larger indoor spaces (eg. warehouses & retail) -- at least until visual SLAM becomes a bit more viable with off-the-shelf solutions that can handle uniformity and poor textures. Until recently, the only option (in hobbyist-style numbers) was to buy a Neato off eBay and hack off its LRF. Now, a startup called Scanse is changing that... They're developing a long-range (40m) scanning LRF for around $300, and their Kickstarter needs some love -- it's literally the first (and only) project I've ever backed, and I hope you'll join me.
I rarely (never?) promote robotics Kickstarter projects on Hizook (so please don't ask!). I've never even backed a Kickstarter project... until today; I backed Scanse. I had a burning need for this exact product just the other day for my stealthy new robotics startup. We just can't budget $8k per robot for Hokuyo UTM LRFs, so I was extremely frustrated to learn that there still weren't really any good, low-cost options for off-the-shelf integration. I was on the verge of mounting a PulsedLight sensor module on a Robotis servo... but even that wouldn't have solved my long-term issue; PulsedLight was apparently sold to Garmin and end-of-lifed (EOLed). Then I discovered Scanse's Kickstarter. They are building the exact product that I wanted -- and I won't even have to worry about doing the integration, calibration, mechanics, etc. It's perfect. I hope they succeed... and right now their Kickstarter needs a little love. I'm sure many readers out there would use Scanse's Sweep product (at work or as hobbyists), so I'd encourage you to back their campaign right now so that these become an off-the-shelf reality. Here is the link: Scanse Kickstarter!
A lot of the Scanse Kickstarter is focused on hobbyist applications. This makes sense, since hobbyists are the primary backers for most Kickstarter projects. However, it looks like Scanse is already talking to potential commercial customers too -- eg. Dispatch Robotics' autonomous delivery vehicle.
The basic construction of their sensor is fairly straight forward:
In many ways, it looks like a (much better!) version of my Robotis servo plus PulsedLight notion. In fact, if I had to wager a guess, I'd say Scanse is probably using the same PulsedLight sensor modules too. The CAD rendering (above) looks eerily similar to the PulsedLight module (below)... I guess great minds think alike. ;-) I asked Scanse co-founder Tyson Messori about this, and here's what he said:
Indeed! We have been working with pulsed light (now Garmin) for two years on a making a scanner using their technology, and are using a future version of their sensor (not released to the public yet) in our scanner. This new version addresses the problems we've seen with the technology when used for scanning during our extensive testing.
As an aside... there is a lot of additional sensor tech coming down the pipeline. One of my "must watch" technologies is the solid-state optics LIDAR being developed by Quanergy for autonomous cars (with a target price of $250 ea?!). This is indicative of a major trend: Autonomous cars are almost a foregone conclusion at this point -- they will happen (eventually). There's just too much money and R&D to stop them now; I firmly believe that the technology problems are surmountable and that the largest remaining hurdles are probably regulatory and societal. That's probably a topic for another day... but my point is: Autonomous cars are going to drive down the cost of good long-range sensors, which will enable a bunch of new robotics applications that were previously unviable economically. (Not to mention improvements in AI and Machine Learning!) I know I'm betting on it! In the meantime, I hope Scanse's products become mainstream so that we can all benefit sooner rather than later!