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Oxford tests use of sensors for city mapping



City council works with Oxford Robotics Institute on placing NABU devices on street cleaning vehicles

Oxford City Council has begun to use multi-purpose sensors attached to street cleaning vehicles to collect a range of data on environmental factors in the city centre.

It is working with the research team at the Oxford Robotics Institute (ORI) at the University of Oxford, initially to create a series of 3D maps for the development of autonomous vehicles, but with plans to collect data for other projects in managing the city.

Stephen Kyberd, senior platforms and systems engineer at the ORI, told UKAuthority that the vehicles are using small sensors named NABUs that house a stereo camera, two monocular cameras and two 2D LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanners.

They can collect data on features including road and pavement surface damage, air quality, people numbers and movement, litter and fly tipping, parked vehicles and heat loss from buildings.

“The NABU is designed to be very versatile and adaptable and can be used in all sorts of environments, from city centres to warehouses,” he said.

“The model of the world our robots generate can be used by them to operate autonomously but are also useful in their own right. In this project we are looking at what information we can extract and provide to the council to assist them in the maintenance and improvement of the built environment.”

He added that the institute uses a range of algorithms it has developed over the past 20 years to create a model of the world around the sensor.

Roll out plan

A spokesperson for the city council said that initially the sensors are being fitted to a handful of street cleaner vehicles and that further roll out depends on how the sensors react during the trial, which is scheduled to last until October.

Sebastian Johnson, vice chair of the Smart Oxford Board – which runs smart places initiatives around the city – and project manager at Oxford City Council, said: “Working with the Oxford Robotics Institute we are exploring how the city council’s fleet of street cleaners and refuse collection vehicles can be fitted with sensors, developed by the ORI, to map the city. 

“At the same time we are looking to gather information and data that can help us improve the way we run the city as an efficient and effective council. Our open data platform will also allow innovators to explore and use the data to create new ideas and applications.”

The council added that data from the project will be published on the Oxfordshire Open Data platform.

Image by Kurtis Garbutt, CC BY 2.0 through flickr


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