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CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency and has been pushing the edge of what’s possible for more than 85 years. Today, the organisation has close to 6,000 people working out of 55 centres in Australia and internationally. These people work closely with industry and communities to leave a lasting legacy across five broad areas: food, health and life science industries; energy; environment; information and communications; and manufacturing, materials and minerals.

CSIRO Autonomous Systems researchers are the developers of Zebedee, a handheld 3D laser mapping system that can scan an environment continuously as an operator walks through it. The system produces a 3D map of the environment as well as an accurate record of the trajectory followed. Zebedee uses the environment itself, rather than external reference systems or artificial beacons, to simultaneously locate the device and map the site. This ability enables Zebedee’s use indoors, underground, and in covered environments, such as forests, underground mines, and processing plants.

Photograph: Zebedee being used at Fort Lytton, Brisbane, Queensland (2013)

The distinguishing feature of Zebedee’s design is that the laser scanner is mounted on a spring, which provides a lightweight solution for ensuring a wide scanning field of view. The spring converts the natural motions of the operator into a suitable sweeping motion of the scanner. Specially designed software is able to convert the raw range and inertial measurements into a 3D map, represented as a point cloud, which consists of millions of points expressed in a common coordinate frame.

As part of their research, the CSIRO team is mapping cultural heritage sites around the world that are too complex or too challenging to map using traditional terrestrial or vehicle-mounted laser scanning methods. The team is also aiming to use the technology on small mobile robots to enable the mapping of many structures too small or too hazardous for humans to access.

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