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Design Teams Challenged to Develop Disaster Ready Robots

This past weekend, disaster ready robot design teams competed in California. The winning design team will be awarded $2 million for research efforts. The purpose of the competition was to challenge teams to develop robots to assist in disasters.  The robots were judged on the ability to cut through walls, drive a utility vehicle, push buttons and turn valves. To date, the winning design team has not been announced.

Flooding in Oklahoma and Texas in May of this year resulted in deaths and injuries, while destroying homes, businesses, roads and cars. People were trapped in a snowstorm in Buffalo, New York in November 2014. The death toll climbed as tornados in April 2014, wreaked havoc across the Midwest. Heavy rainfalls caused a dangerous mudslide in Oso, Washington in 2014.

Disaster ready robots rummaged through debris after the September 11, 2001 attacks searching for survivors. Swarms of disaster ready robots may reduce the number of human lives lost in other types of disasters in the near future. Often human disaster response teams are unable to respond until after some of the danger has passed or do not have the physical strength and numbers to provide adequate response.

A mission of the U.S. Defense Department is disaster relief. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a robotics program that funded the development of disaster ready robots. The result is two man-portable ground robots, the i-Robot Pakbot and the Quinetiq TALON. A tactical reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle, known as the Honeywell T-Hawk was also funded by DARPA. All three robots are designed for harsh environments.

The i-Robot Pakbot may be reconfigured to suit the needs of the mission. The robot is built to navigate rough terrain. In disaster operations, the robot’s operator is stationed at a safe distance. The Quinetiq TALON was initially designed for utilization with biological/chemical hazmat, communications, defense, explosive ordinance disposal, improvised explosive devices, lifting, rescue and security. The design team has developed specialty models of the TALON for route clearance and other missions. The Honeywell T-Hawk is designed to operate in extreme weather conditions in hover and stare modes. The T-Hawk may be utilized for target acquisition, disaster surveillance and other tasks. The outcome of the competition in California may bring new ideas into the developing field of disaster ready robots. 

 

 

*Photo courtesy of I-Robot by Samazeon at Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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