Exactly calculated: navigation for indoors

Articel of 28 March 2014 

Exactly calculated: navigation for indoors with the Festo eMotionSpheres

“After 300 metres turn left!” It is impossible to imagine everyday life without navigation devices these days. In the car they show the driver the right way with the help of GPS navigation (Global Positioning System) and make classic road maps superfluous.

Even combined with mobile devices such as smartphones, they are excellent for finding your way and you can always get to the right destination when hiking, cycling or walking around town. What works out in the open with the help of satellites, Festo has now also implemented for enclosed spaces: the flying objects from the eMotionSpheres installation use an indoor navigation system to orientate themselves in the space.

Collision-free motion of autonomous systems in a space

Eight white spheres fly in all directions above the heads of those watching, before the random movements develop into a formation. Suddenly one of the spheres detaches itself and the others follow it like pearls on a string. The perfect line turns into a sine curve in the air until the spheres form a circle. These flight manoeuvres are part of an elaborate choreography by the flying objects, eMotionSpheres, which Festo will present at the Hannover Messe from 7 April. Active infrared markers, a camera system and an intelligent control system make different flight manoeuvres possible - even without human pilots.

Indoor GPS for exact localisation

Ten infrared cameras installed in the room record the spheres via active markers (infrared LEDs), which emit infrared light. They are used to determine the exact position of the flying objects and pass on the data to a central master computer. It calculates the necessary flight manoeuvres for the objects and “tells” these where they have to fly to. The computer works like an air traffic controller in this respect, coordinating all the movements of each ball. The spheres only communicate with the master computer, not with each other. The ten cameras map out the flight area and only capture infrared light due to their special filters.

Large spatial coverage with low power consumption

Because the infrared light only has to cover the distance between the ball and camera, compared to passive markers, a larger space can therefore be recorded with the same number of cameras. The markers are not permanently lit, but instead flash for only a millisecond. They therefore need very little energy. As the spheres stop at their charging stations regularly and independently, they can be used as flying objects for a longer period than autonomous flying objects.

Possible applications for indoor GPS systems

With the eMotionSpheres installation and the indoor GPS implemented by it, Festo demonstrates the autonomous and adaptable behaviour of technology. The system could be used to track products in the factory or in the logistics department to monitor the function of small robots or vehicles. It could also be conceivably used as a guidance system - be it for visitors to trade fairs, in museums or at large indoor events.

You can see the eMotionSpheres in action here: