In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Ben-Gurion University’s team “Robil” is currently developing a disaster-response-themed robot, as part of a challenge (and significant grant) issued to the university by DARPA Robotics.
The grant is for $379,000, and the challenge is described by the DARPA website as follows: “The DARPA Robotics Challenge program will help directly meet these needs by developing robotic technology for disaster response operations. This technology will improve the performance of robots that operate in the rough terrain and austere conditions characteristic of disasters, and use vehicles and tools commonly available in populated areas.”
Specifically, BGU is developing software to control the GFE Platform developed by Boston Dynamics Inc., which itself is based on the Atlas humanoid robotic platform, only modified this time to accord with the DARPA challenge.
“This technology will also work in ways easily understood by subject matter experts untrained in the operation of robots, and be governed by intuitive controls that require little training,” the website elaborates.
According to DARPA, the idea for this challenge was spurred not by Superstorm Sandy, but by the devastation from such disasters as Fukushima, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the Chilean Copiapó mine collapse.
The main issue is that while subject matter experts are available with the knowledge to prevent much of the damage of such disasters, those experts are largely unable to get close enough to complete the needed exercises to prevent the damage.
The list of fallout from natural (or other) disasters includes nuclear contamination, intense pressure, and structural instability, to name only a few.
The idea that a robot could be developed to perform preventative measures to ensure human safety in these dangerous events is an exciting one, which could change the very way we view large-scale disasters like Hurricane Sandy in the future.
BGU’s “Robil” team includes 20 key personnel from the university as well as 40-plus graduate students and engineers.
The team’s leader, Professor Hugo Guterman of BGU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, described the minds at work behind the project: “Robil’s team is an ad-hoc consortium led by Ben-Gurion University and comprised of the leaders of the Israeli robotics industry (IAI and Cogniteam) and academia (BGU, Bar-Ilan University, Technion-Israeli Institute of Technology).”
Edited by Brooke Neuman