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Smart Robot Detects Land Mines
August 29, 2013   
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A smart mobile robot that can detect and dispose of land mines and other dangerous objects is the latest invention by a group of researchers led by Prof. Dominik Sankowski at the Institute of Applied Computer Science at the £ód¼ University of Technology in central Poland.

The robot can search a specific area, find any land mines planted there and remove them. Why did the researchers build the device? Because the number of minefields around the world continues to grow and such devices are simply needed, Sankowski says.

“Producing a single land mine and placing it on a minefield costs about $1. However, finding and disarming it costs more than $1,000,” says Sankowski. “For this reason, devices capable of autonomously searching areas for these dangerous explosives are in great demand.”

The robot designed by the researchers at the £ód¼ University of Technology is one of a few designs of its kind around the world; it is smart and can largely work autonomously, the researchers say.

Most mobile robots designed for use by the military and police around the world are produced in the United States and Japan. In Poland there are also research centers that are working on such designs, but most of the constructed devices are incapable of performing tasks autonomously.

The robot built by the £ód¼ researchers can be used in all places where human life is at risk. It could be useful for the military, firefighters, police, and border services, Sankowski says.

In addition to searching a designated area for hidden mines, the robot can grab and carry dangerous objects to another location, without posing a threat to human life—thanks to a gripper that can be attached to the robot’s observation arm mounted on the platform.

The current version of the robot has a stiff suspension system that allows the device to negotiate small obstacles, such as curbs and driveways as well as steep slopes of up to 45 degrees.

The robot features a mobile platform with six independently powered wheels. A number of devices are mounted on the platform, including an infrared camera, a laser scanner, GPS, and optical rangefinders. Another piece of equipment used is a metal detector.

Six digital signal processors (DSPs) and an Intel Atom processor are used to oversee the work of the robot and control it. Its power supply system with a built-in charger enables the robot to work two hours before it needs to be recharged. There are also bright LEDs to illuminate the robot’s path while carrying out night-time tasks.

The robot works in two modes. In the first mode, it is controlled by a human operator from a special control panel. Sensors mounted on the robot inform the operator about any collisions with obstacles, says Sankowski.

In the second mode, the robot is almost completely independent. It is given a task to perform, and reports once the task is completed. The autonomous mode capability distinguishes this robot from other devices of this type worldwide, Sankowski says.

In this mode, the operator’s work is limited to programming the robot and issuing commands. If the operator wants the robot to reach a specific point, it’s enough to touch the screen and choose the destination on a map. The robot starts moving to the designated point. While the task is being performed, a collision-free path is calculated based on laser scanner readouts.

The £ód¼ researchers have yet to patent their invention. For now, they do not have a specific prototype that could be put into production, according to Sankowski. The main obstacle is the high cost of official certification procedures and military research.

The robot, which has been developed as part of a project called Autonomous Robot Designed for Battlefield Reconnaissance Tasks and Mine Detection, cost zl.5.5 million to build. The project has been financed by Poland’s National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR).

Olga Majewska
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