Robots to save human lives

In light of the recent large-scale earthquakes in Haiti and Chile there has never been a greater need for search and rescue robots to assist in identifying victims under collapsed houses and buildings.

Warwick Mobile Robotics (WMR) is a project for fourth year MEng students, now in its third year running, which aims to design and build a search and rescue robot for competing in the RoboCup Rescue competition 2010. The RoboCup Rescue competition was initiated after the Great Hanshin earthquake, which hit Kobe (Japan) on the 17th January 1995, with a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale. As a result over 6,400 people lost their lives, 300,000 were left homeless and damage was estimated at £68 billion. The lessons learnt highlighted the need for robust and reliable technologies that can acquire, process and relay necessary information. Robots can be used in areas which may be unsafe for humans, do not suffer from fatigue and can access deep voids where oxygen levels are low. Their sensing capabilities are versatile and relevant information can be relayed back to the user remotely.

This year’s European RoboCup competition, also known as the German Open, will take place in Magdeburg from the 15th–18th April. This competition hosts a range of leagues including RoboCup Soccer, Home and Rescue. The RoboCup Rescue competition consists of a simulated disaster environment to test the robot’s mobility, autonomy and sensing capabilities. Points are scored by identifying “victims”, which are represented by dolls sometimes emitting sound, CO2, or heat, just like a human would. The competition arena consists of three different areas, one for testing autonomous capabilities (yellow arena) and the other two for mobility (orange/red arena). The yellow arena has random mazes of rooms and hallways, while the orange/red arenas have obstacles such as step fields, ramps and stairs.

The WMR team comprises seven final year students from a range of engineering disciplines, including mechanical, electronic and manufacturing. The team members are Paul Davis, Oliver Batley, Matt Winterbottom, Oliver Mulcahy, Dean O’Shea, Tom Astley and Aleksa Starovic. The WMR laboratory is located in the International Manufacturing Centre (IMC), home of the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG). This allows the team access to the WMG’s high-tech manufacturing facilities and expertise. An obstacle course has been built in the new International Digital Laboratory (IDL) for practicing driving the robot in preparation for the competition. WMR has support and assistance from three PhD students (Redland Sanders, Michael Tandy and Stefan Winkvist), three WMG technicians (Adam Land, Neil Timms and Terry Timms), and two university academics who act as the project directors (Prof. Ken Young and Dr. Peter Jones). WMR is sponsored by the School of Engineering, WMG, IMRC, ITCM, Harwin Interconnect, and Maxon Motor.

{{ quote Robots can be used in areas which may be unsafe for humans, do not suffer from fatigue and can access deep voids where oxygen levels are low }}

The team this year is working hard to build on the success of last year’s team, which placed third overall in the competition and won the award for best agility. This year’s improvements include a new chassis design, arm, head, electronics configuration, and the introduction of an entirely new second robot! This second robot, also known as the autonomous robot, is capable of unassisted navigation, mapping and identification of victims. A so-called LIght Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) device is used for Simultaneous Localisation And Mapping (SLAM). SLAM is a technique whereby the robot will build a map of its environment and keep track of its location. Using subsequent LIDAR scans the software will create and update a map. Identified victims are placed on the map for victim localisation. The software for the autonomous robot is being developed by a team of final year MSc Computer Science students, working in conjunction with the WMR team. This is the first year the Computer Science department has been integrated into the WMR project. This way the two teams can work simultaneously on two different robots. The Computer Science team members are James Griffin, Jonathan Abbey, Jan Vosecky, Jason Cook and Adish Ramabadran. The autonomous robot is made of 0.9mm thick sheet steel, which is laser cut with high precision and bent into the desired shape. This simple box-shaped robot is large enough to house a variety of sensors for autonomous navigation and is sufficient to master the relatively flat terrain in the yellow arena.

The tele-operated robot is designed to compete in the orange and red arenas. Using large tracks and flippers it can negotiate obstacles to locate victims driven using a PlayStation controller from a remote position, with no direct visibility of the robot. The new chassis design is primarily made of laser cut sheet steel panels, similar to those on the autonomous robot. These are reinforced by carbon fibre panels, made in-house, constituting the top and bottom of the robot. Carbon fibre is a composite material offering high strength to weight properties. This chassis configuration and other weight saving modifications will offer a 10kg weight reduction over the previous year’s design, making the robot more agile and increasing the longevity of the batteries.

WMR will be running a number of public demonstrations over the next few weeks, for which details can be found on the [WMR website]( Depending on the performance in Germany this April, there may be an opportunity for competing in the World Championships in Singapore, in June 2010. There is currently no scope for this in the finance budget, however WMR are always open to new sponsorship opportunities.


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