Robots in Cartography

Caitlin Dempsey


Forget the arguments about whether humans can create spatial data using neogeography.  The new question is, “Can a Robot Draw a Map?”  At least that’s the question that some scientists from Carnegie Mellon University are seeking to answer out in the Mojave desert.  An experimental rover, going by the name of Zoe, is being tested to see if it can draw a detailed map showing the boundaries between soil and basalt in the area.  The scientists have programmed Zoe to use spectral data to try and differentiate between the soils types.  The hope is that, if the robot can be successfully programmed to differentiate accurately between different types of landscapes, it can be used to create maps of locations such as Mars where humans can’t tred.

CARMEN is the open source Carnegie Mellon Robot Navigation Toolkit, “modular software designed to provide basic navigation primatives including: base and sensor control, logging, obstacle avoidance, localization, path planning, and mapping.”

Another robot, named SARA (the Spatially Aware Robotic Assistant) has its own blog to detail its spatial adventures.  Developed by Spatial Robotics, SARA is used for gathering data in GIS and CAD formats  particularly for building plans.


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.