MSHA, CRASAR standing down

With the second explosion and an official declaration of the Pike River Mine explosion as a recovery operation, the New Zealand government has asked the MSHA team to stand down. The robot had arrived as LAX almost exactly as the press conference about the second explosion so Air New Zealand put us up at an airport hotel to see what the course of action would be. (Air New Zealand has been amazing- getting the V2 from Pittsburgh to LA, rebooking flights (like mine), and being extraordinarily friendly and helpful.) I wished we could have helped in a tangible way. And I wish there had been a happy ending– our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families on their tragedy and also the responders who must be devastated.

For me, it’s back home and trying to document the use of the robots so that we can learn for the future.

MSHA V2 robot going to New Zealand, CRASAR joining the team

It looks like from the internet news that it has been a busy day in New Zealand with two robots and a third being prepped. My hat’s off to the Kiwis for aggressively pursuing this technology. I know of only one other case- the Midas Gold Mine Nevada collapse- where more than one robot was deployed. And that was one at a time (the first robot from nearby Fallon NAS was too big and heavy for that type of void, so CRASAR was called in and we brought in an iRobot packbot and Inuktun/ASR Extreme VGTV from the US Navy SPAWAR small robot pool. The packbot was too big so we used the Extreme, so only 2 robots were used.). It sounds like that more than 1 robot is, or was, active at one time at Pike River, so that’s a record.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration, under the direction of technology director Dr. Jeff Kravitz, is bringing the V2 (the Remotec Wolverine variant that is to the best of my knowledge the only mine permissible robot in the world) to New Zealand. I am currently waiting at LAX for them to arrive, as I’ve been invited to join their team. I can’t wait to “meet” the other robots (and responders). Jeff is a real unsung hero of rescue robotics, he has been involved with the most underground mine rescue robot deployments in the world. We’ve worked together since 2006, you can see him in this video about the rescue robot at the Crandall Canyon Utah mine disaster, and we are co-authors of a paper summarizing underground mine rescue robot technology and the nine deployments as of 2009.

I’m sure I speak for everyone that we’d be thrilled to arrive in New Zealand to discover that the 29 miners had been found alive and had been extricated; they remain in our prayers.

Pike River Mine robots fails

A sad day with the robot failing in New Zealand and no resolution on the missing miners. I got asked many times today by the NZ media about the ways a bomb squad robot could fail or fail being used as an underground mine rescue robot. Mobile robot technology is still primitive (most robots are not as sophisticated as they could be due to economic barriers) plus search and rescue is one of the hardest, if not THE hardest, domain.

I am afraid that we may be losing sight of while there are many ways for a robot to fail, a single success could save 29 lives.  And if not this time, we learn for the next- because there will always be a next time.

Our deepest, best wishes for the miners and their families and also the responders who are pushing the envelope to try to find the missing.

Pike River Coal Mine explosion in New Zealand

Peter Griffin of the Science Media Centre in New Zealand has just given us a heads up that rescuers will be attempting to deploy a robot in the search for the 29 missing miners from the Pike River coal mine explosion. Our prayers are with the miners, their families, and the responders and we hope for a happy ending like at Chile.


The video above is from the robot at the Crandall Canyon Utah coal mine collapse and pictures are in the media gallery. A paper summarizing a study CRASAR did for the US Mine Safety and Health Administration for all 3 types of mine robot rescue is here and give the prior deployments, advantages and limitations of robots for each. The US Mine Safety and Health Administration and its lead scientist, Dr. Jeffrey Kravitz, is the world leader in underground mine rescue deployments and CRASAR is proud to have assisted with two mine rescues. To date, there has been no known “live saves” of miners with a robot but we’re hoping this is a first.

Robot Revolution: Dean of Invention

Robin Murphy, Bob McKee, and CRASAR robots working at Disaster City will be featured this Friday, November 5, at 9pm CT (channel 103 GREEN on Suddenlink) on Planet Green’s Original Series Dean of Invention. This episode entitled “Robot Revolution” will focus on environmental challenges that must be met by robots because human beings are physically unable to meet them.

Dean of Invention is hosted by Dean Kamen, visionary inventor and creator of the first robot competition. Robin Murphy is the Raytheon Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University and the director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue. Bob McKee is the director of the Urban Search & Rescue division of the Texas Engineering Extension Service.