Archive for June, 2015

Robot boats as swift water rescuers, not just for critical infrastructure and restoration/recovery operations anymore!

EMILY at swift water exercise in Texas

EMILY at swift water exercise in Texas

Grant Wilde and Gino Chacon observed the EMILY rescue boat, a new concept in disaster robotics. I have followed Tony Mulligan and his work with EMILY since 2012 and EMILY is really gaining acceptance. He demoed the boat this week during a swift water exercise (which our partners Austin Fire Department participated in- thanks Coitt for the directions!) The robot acts as a barrel-shaped life ring. An operator teleoperates EMILY to a victim in the water and the victim grabs it. The operator then uses the tether to pull EMILY and her cargo to safety.

Creator Tony Mulligan assembling EMILY

Creator Tony Mulligan assembling EMILY

We’ve been pinged many times by fire rescue teams about swift water rescue- though about the use of UAVs. Swift water has many challenges, one of which is that the rescue crew in their boat is at risk for being struck by debris speeding into them. The idea was the UAV could act as a spotter and help coordinate the safety of responders and victims alike. EMILY bypasses some of the challenge by eliminating the responder.
Grant and Gino are working a slightly smaller robot boat for shallow littoral areas, definitely not swift water, for radiation sampling for treaty verification, identifying flood vulnerable areas (with the Hazards Reduction and Recovery Center), and general environmental sampling. Some nuclear power plants or towns can be readily accessed by creeks even if roads are out. Dr. Josh Peschel, a former PhD student now at University of Illinois, is working with these marine platforms to better understand water management.
EMILY assembled and ready to go

EMILY assembled and ready to go

Gino filming EMILY

Gino filming EMILY

Stop Laughing at Those Clumsy Humanoid Robots

The Humanoid Robot, built like a linebacker with an oversized head, tiptoes on two feet through the dirt. It’s free of any wires. It’s unleashed—but it’s now wavering. They were all part of a competition in Pomona, California put on by Darpa, the far-out research wing of the Pentagon. After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Darpa set out to encourage the development of robots that can assist in similar catastrophes: machines capable of working where humans dare not go. And so the yearly Darpa Robotics Challenge was born.

To explore something like a contaminated nuclear reactor, a robot would have to conquer not only piles of rubble in the facility, but also be able to open doors and climb stairs and ladders. In a human-designed space, the thinking goes, a humanoid robot would be best equipped to handle the job. And indeed, for all their clumsiness, the semi-autonomous robots (human operators still do much of the controlling in the challenge) passed some impressive tests, including driving an ATV.

The thing is, relief workers have had operational “tracked” robots for 15 years that roll along on tank-like treads. They even helped out in the aftermath of Fukushima, and still run tests there to this day. Bipedal humanoids, on the other hand, have never gotten near an actual disaster. They’re expensive, and you don’t have to be a physicist to notice these robots are top heavy.

So why even bother developing bipeds? Well, when Darpa’s handing out $2 million for first place in its challenge, building a walking robot that drives ATVs must seem like a sweet deal.

Check out more information at wired.com

N.C. State team pioneers backpack-wearing cockroaches that can explore disaster areas

Researchers at N.C. State are developing technology that equips cockroaches to enter disaster areas and send back information for search-and-rescue missions. The insects carry backpacks that contain a small microphone and radio transmitter.

These enhanced insects – dubbed biobots or cyborgs – have been developed by Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at N.C. State, and others over the past eight years. Working initially with moths and, later, cockroaches, the scientists equipped the insects to pick up sounds too distant or faint to be heard outside the rubble.

Another facet of the technology allows the insects also to send signals to one another. “It’s a neighbor-to-neighbor interaction that allows someone to build a map,” explained Edgar Lobaton, a robotics engineer and assistant professor in NCSU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “These little agents move around and continuously communicate with each other by sending out radio signals. We are learning to take this information, put it in a computer, and create a map of the area.”

Check out more information here!