iRobot: Ashesi alums look to build a new kind of university navigation guide

What if we told you, that the next time you came to visit Ashesi for a campus tour you could be welcomed by a self-driving robot? As part of a research project with Ashesi’s Computer Science department, two alumni, Wumpini Hussein ’14 and Francis Delali Vorgbe ’14, are working to accomplish exactly that. The two, using the low-cost Turtlebot robot kit, are planning to do a full test run by the end of August 2014.

“We had worked with the Turtlebot as students, during our Robotics class, and saw a lot of potential applications for it,” Delali said. “What started out as a class project turned into a deep fascination with innately inanimate objects and the challenges and possibilities they come with.”

As part of their project, the team is laying the foundational framework for future robotics researchers as they record detailed maps of Ashesi’s campus into the robot’s intelligence. It is a tedious process, and requires a good amount of precision and calculation.

“Mapping and navigating large open areas is particularly challenging in Robotics,” Wumpini said. “To address these challenges we sectioned the campus, designed and implemented an automated system that creates maps of each section and dynamically loads the appropriate map depending on the location of the robot. It is a clever system that allows the Turtlebot to stitch numerous small maps together to form one large map of any area.”

The two are also working on a system called Hermes, which will provide an interface between the Robot Operating System and future users of the Turtlebot. Hermes will have knowledge of all campus maps, locations of interest within the maps and be able to calculate the shortest routes to those locations as feedback to a user.

“This means, that not only can the robot give a guided tour of Ashesi’s campus, but it could also be used as a messenger between different offices,” Delali adds. “These are of course, a few of the applications of a robot that has knowledge, and can navigate the entirety, of a given space. We’re working hard to bring this into fruition and who knows, we might just build the next self-driving automobile while we’re at it – right here in Ghana.”

That’s a future we cannot wait to see.