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Towards Semi-autonomous Robotic Inspection and Mapping in Confined Spaces with the EspeleoRobô


Autonomous mobile devices operating in confined environments, such as pipes, underground tunnel systems, and cave networks, face multiple open challenges from the robotics perspective. Those challenges, such as mobility, localization, and mapping in GPS denied scenarios, are receiving particular attention from the academy and industry. One example is the Brazilian mining company Vale S.A., which is employing a robot – EspeleoRobô (SpeleoRobot) – to access restricted and dangerous areas for human workers. The EspeleoRobô is a robot initially designed for natural cave inspection during teleoperated missions. It is now being used to monitor other types of confined environments, such as dam galleries and other restrained or dangerous areas. This paper describes the platform in its current version and the pipeline used for semi-autonomous inspection in confined environments. The pipeline includes photorealistic mapping techniques, Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) with LiDAR, path planning based on mobility optimization, and navigation control using vector fields to reduce operator dependency of the robot operation. The proposed concept was validated in simulations with a realistic underground tunnel system and in representative real-world scenarios. The results endorse the viability of using the proposed concept for real deployments.

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Algorithms are already published on GitHub. Data-sets can be made available upon acceptance and publication.


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- Instituto Tecnológico Vale (ITV);

- Vale S.A.;

- Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Cientíıfico e Tecnológico (CNPq);

- Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de Minas Gerais (FAPEMIG);

- Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES).

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Authors and Affiliations



General work conduction: H.A. and G.M.F.; Conceptualization: H.A., G.P. and G.M.F.; Robot platform: L.G.D.B., H.A., J.D., F.R. and G.M.F.; Online SLAM: G.P.C.J., R.F. and G.M.F.; Photogrammetry and mesh reconstruction: G.P., H.A., L.W.R.F and E.R.N; Navigation: H.A., F.L.M.S., G.M.F. and D.G.M.; Control: A.R., V.M., H.A. and G.M.F.; Experimental methodology: H.A., A.R., G.P., G.P.C.J., R.F., V.M., L.W.R.F., J.D., F.R., F.L.M.S. and G.M.F.; Conceived images and graphics: H.A., A.R., G.P., G.P.C.J., R.F., V.M., L.W.R.F., F.L.M.S. and L.G.D.B.; Work supervision: G.P. and G.M.F.; All authors reviewed and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Héctor Azpúrua.

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The authors would like to thank Ramon Araú jo and the speleology team of Vale S.A. due to the support in developing this project. The authors would also like to thank the colleagues from Mina du Veloso for their help in accessing the area to perform experimental validation. This work was supported by Instituto Tecnológico Vale (ITV), Vale S.A., Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), FAPEMIG, Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico - Brasil (CNPq), and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior - Brasil (CAPES) - Finance Code 001. Dr. Gustavo Pessin acknowledges MCTIC/CNPq-Brazil processes 429096/2018-6 and 308425/2017-0. Dr. Gustavo M. Freitas also acknowledges MCTIC/CNPq-Brazil processes 443209/2015-4 and 402725/2018-2.

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Azpúrua, H., Rezende, A., Potje, G. et al. Towards Semi-autonomous Robotic Inspection and Mapping in Confined Spaces with the EspeleoRobô. J Intell Robot Syst 101, 69 (2021).

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  • Subterranean exploration with mobile robots
  • 3D reconstruction and mapping
  • GPS-denied localization
  • path planning in rugged terrains
  • Vector field control