Archive for the ‘In the News’ Category

‘Smart’ Robot Could Help Rescue Disaster Victims

A new robotic tool could help rescue workers locate victims of disasters and other emergencies before venturing into collapsed buildings or other potentially dangerous places.

Developed by researchers at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico, the new robotic system enables small, rugged bots — designed for search-and-rescue missions — to distinguish between human bodies and other objects, such as piles and rubble.

As the robot roams around a disaster site, it snaps pictures of its surroundings with the 3D camera and then sends those images to the computer. The computer then scans the images for patterns that might indicate the presence of a human body, using a specially created algorithm. The algorithm must first break down visual information into mathematical data by using what’s known as a descriptor system, which assigns numerical values to different parts of the 3D images. The numbers represent the different shapes, colors and densities of the objects in the picture.

All of this mathematical data is then merged together to create a second, much simpler, image. This image is passed through another algorithm, which detects whether the object that appears in the new image is a person or something else.

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CRASAR as inspiration for Eckerd College

The difference between life and death for a troubled soul who jumps over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which is ranked fourth for suicide jumps in the United States, can rest in the hands of a group of students on the Eckerd College Search and Rescue Team. There are about 50 students and three paid staff members on the team.

While the 24-7 team is the only volunteer, college-based marine search and rescue group in the country, there are other unique teams around the nation. Texas A&M has a Center for Robot Assisted Search and Rescue in College Station and a handful of schools perform backcountry searches.

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Robots to contribute to new Ebola-fighting efforts

As fears continue to grow over the recent outbreak of Ebola, scientists and researchers in the U.S. are hoping to develop a strategy for combating the virus’ spread through the use of robots and autonomous vehicles. November 7th will see workshops put together by the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue that brings robotocists together with members of the medical and humanitarian aid communities to hopefully find a solution.

The initial idea is that depending on the situation, robots can be used as mobile interpreters, methods of delivery for much-needed supplies such as medicine and food, and even during the most dangerous of tasks like decontamination or burying deceased victims. “What are the things robotics can do to help?” poses Robin Murphy, a robotics professor at Texas A&M University, as well as the director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue. One idea put forward by a robotics engineer is to take a wheeled robot and attach two decontamination sprayers, and then have it work in places where the virus has been found, or on cleaning equipment.

What is being stressed leading up to the workshops is that robots are not act as full replacements for human aid workers. The goal is to minimize workers’ contact, but for every piece of technology put to use, there should still be a human to interact with.

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Snake Bots to the Rescue

There have been many nature-inspired gadgets and devices. This method is called biomimicry or biomimemtics. You have products like shark skin which inspired swim suits and submarine coatings; Velcro, the hook and loop fastener that was inspired by plant burrs that stick to dog hair and a new adhesive inspired by Geckos. Now, snakes have inspired the creation of a robot that will mimic its actions and can move through tiny holes.

It is said that the snake robot has been in use since 2008, but these were early prototypes, since which many alterations have been made in different models. The most famous is Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) research and snake bot models. Georgia Tech University students have also developed search and rescue snake robots in 2012.

Recently researchers from Carnegie Mellon and Georgia Tech headed to Zoo Atlanta, to observe rattlesnakes. After over 50 trials, these snake movements were measured and tracked through cameras. “The snakes tended to increase the amount of body contact with the surface at any instant in time when they were sidewinding up the slope and the incline angle increased,” said Daniel Goldman, co-author of the study and an associate professor of biomechanics at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

These researchers also got in touch with Howie Choset, a professor at The Robotics Institute at CMU. Prof Howie has been working on developing limbless snake bots that can move through small spaces. The professor said these robotic sidewinding abilities could come in handy in archaeological sites. For instance, the robots could be used to explore the insides of pyramids or tombs. They could also help in search and rescue missions, as they are capable of moving in small and cramped spaces.

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Local students testing the water for robot rescues

Highvale’s Scott Nicholson and Albany Creek’s Jaynesh Vanmali are part of a Queensland University of Technology team taking the Maritime RobotX Challenge.

The competition is designed to increase the autonomy of robotic boats so they could perform real-world tasks in real-world environments, including searching for debris or oil slicks or finding overboard mariners in rough seas.

Running from 20-26 October, the Maritime RobotX Challenge involves 14 teams from universities in Australia, Singapore, Japan, USA and South Korea.

“Teams are judged on how competent their boat is at completing tasks,” Mr Vanmali said. “There are five tasks in total and each of them assess the boat’s ability in docking, navigation, obstacle avoidance and search and rescue.”

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Snake Robots: Slithering Machines Could Help Search & Rescue Missions

Meet the sidewinder rattlesnake robot! This motorized serpent can actually move across sandy surfaces, both flat and inclined, an exploit that has escaped engineers so far.

Recently, the team of Georgia tech researchers has portrayed for the first time how sidewinder rattlesnakes also known as Crotalus Cerastes, move across a challenging sandy mound. The study is published in the ‘Science’ journal.

“We observed snakes on an artificial mound, finding that the snakes often flatten themselves on the steeper slopes to increase their contact with the sand,” researchers stated. Dr. Daniel Goldman, senior author, who runs a biomechanics lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told BBC, “The most striking thing for us was how nice these animals are as subjects, they lean to just sidewind on command.”

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These Rubbery Robots Use Explosions to Jump

Scientists recently demonstrated that a soft robot could crawl like a starfish through fire, over snow, and even after being run over by a car, all without the constraints of a tether. To control the bot, scientists used air pumps that force bursts of air in and out of a series of pneumatic channels running through its limbs.

Air compressors are rather slow, taking on the order of seconds to work. So, rather than rely on compressed air, scientists have investigated the idea of using explosions to propel rubbery bots. Roboticist Michael Tolley at Harvard University and his colleagues now have revealed an untethered soft robot that uses internal combustion to jump. “I think this type of system might be useful for navigating rough terrain or unknown environments for things like search-and-rescue, or even space exploration,” Tolley says.

The three-legged silicone robot stands about 3 inches tall, 12 inches wide, and weighs a little more than a pound. It has an air pump that bends its legs to control the direction of its jumps and an explosion-driven piston in its center that propels it upward. Its round center holds the 9-volt battery for the air pump, liquid butane fuel for the piston, and electronics to provide the sparks for the explosions.

Tolley’s bot can jump nearly 2 feet horizontally or vertically. That leaping ability could allow it to cross uneven, expanding its range across uneven terrain and making the bot more useful for search-and-rescue operations. The device’s squishiness makes it easier for it to land. And the use of butane fuel delivers power and flexibility.

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2014 China Robot Contest to Kick off in October

Starting October 10, the 2014 China Robot Contest and RoboCup Open will be taking place in Hefei, capital of East China’s Anhui province, the local government said at a press conference on Monday.

As of September 29, 2,920 competitors from 185 colleges including Tsinghua University and Peking University have registered for the contest, according to the municipal bureau of science and technology.

The annual event is seen as the most recognized and authoritative competition for robots in China. In its 15th year, it is slated to be held in Anhui International Exhibition Center from October 10 to October 12.

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NASA tech finds disaster survivors

Each time your heart beats, your entire body moves — even if you’re unconscious and pinned under a pile of rubble. The vibrations are small, invisible to the human eye, and might just save your life after a major disaster.

Researchers at NASA have developed a device that picks up these subtle movements through up to 40 feet of debris. Called FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response), the tool was developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to help rescue crews find survivors quickly in a major disaster.

After a disaster, there’s a limited window of time to find trapped survivors. FINDER makes the process more efficient. It uses a low power radio signal to detect motion. Each movement caused by a heartbeat is like a “twinkle” reflecting back to the radar. What makes the system especially smart is software that can cut through all other movements and pinpoint which vibrations are signs of life. The system looks just for the signals that match human heartbeats, filtering out slower movements like tree branches in the wind, and faster ones like the heartbeat of a rat.

It takes about five minutes to learn how to use FINDER and just a few minutes to set up. The device fits into a case small enough to carry on a plane. Hit the “Search” button and 30 seconds later a Web page appears on the FINDER laptop, which shows how many heartbeats it’s found in a 100 foot radius.

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This squishy tentacle robot may haunt your dreams, but it could also help you in a disaster

A new robot built at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab is rubbery and wriggly, and built to squirm around tight corners.

The creation is meant to be an arm for what are known as soft robots — machines that use compressed air to move their soft body parts, making them safe to be around humans and capable of feats with which hard robots might struggle. It’s inspired by octopus tentacles and moves by puffing up different segments of its body.

Unlike many other soft robots, the tentacle really is made of 100 percent soft material — silicone rubber.

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