CMU Students Design a Robot and Drone System for Rescue Missions


Researchers are now inventing robots that can go and study complex underground structures / Photo by: Bukvoed via Wikimedia Commons


A team of students from Carnegie Mellon and Oregon State University are developing a pair of robots that can navigate through complex underground structures as an entry for the upcoming DARPA Subterranean Challenge.

The small team is among the dozen groups in the multi-year SUbT competition, which is designed to “explore new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, search, and exploit complex underground environments, including human-made tunnel systems, urban underground, and natural cave networks," according to technology news site Tech Crunch.

The competing teams were specifically tasked with search-and-rescue missions in underground terrains, which range from mines to caves to subway stations.

The tech news site reported that the main goal of the challenge, which has a $2 million grand prize, is to devise a system capable of steering through sophisticated underground structures that result from cave-ins or other disasters. Robots developed by the teams are meant to go places where human rescuers can't, or shouldn't.

For the CMU team's solution, they developed multiple robots with a four-wheeled land rover and a small drone being the main components.

“Our system consists of ground robots that will be able to track and follow the terrain,” said Steve Willits, the team's project adviser. He added that the CMU group also built an unmanned aerial vehicle that consists of a hexacopter, which is equipped with all the instruments needed to explore different areas of the mine.

Meanwhile, the rover employs a combination of 3D cameras and LIDAR to both navigate and map the environment as it looks for survivors or human bodies amid the collapsed structure. It also leaves ultra-rugged Wi-Fi repeaters from its rear to extend its signal through its search.

Tech Crunch added that if ever the rover finds itself unable to move because of the rubble, tight passageways, or man-made obstacles like stairs, its companion drone will lift off from its rear and resume searching the area.

Most of the CMU team's project is still in its early stages. While they were able to demonstrate the robots in action, the group has yet to develop a system that will allow the pieces of equipment to work in tandem.