Our Hero: Robot Saves Lives During Mining Accidents

Fact: Robots are just cool…even more so when they come to the rescue of the humans that designed and built them.

If you keep your eyes on robot news (I do), you’ll know that there are robots that dance, run, or do pretty much anything nowadays. However, robots created for the greater good can be even more interesting. Don’t get me wrong. As far as I’m concerned there’s enough room in the world for all robots to live together peacefully. But a robot that doubles as a hero? Pretty cool.

Sandia’s Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot looks like something you’d see traipsing around the moon poking at rocks. (Hopefully that description isn’t too technical…) Though it could probably withstand conditions on the moon (it’s both waterproof and non-explosive) it was built for mining disasters.

In the Chilean mining accident at Copaipo in August of 2010, 33 miners were trapped 2300 feet below the earth’s surface. They languished for 69 days as rescuers tried to figure out how to reach them and return them safely. As you might guess, just making a plan on how to rescue miners is a huge challenge. In these conditions, you don’t know what you’re walking into. Potential complications stem from unstable structures; potential explosive and/or poisonous gasses; and tunnel flooding. So, how do you get from Point A to Point B avoiding all these Indiana Jones-esque obstacles?

Enter the Gemini-Scout, the robot-hero of this story. Moving unmanned into the disaster area, the machine assesses conditions as it searches for survivors. Jon Salton, Sandia engineer and project manager clarifies: “The robot is guided by remote control and is equipped with gas sensors, a thermal camera to locate survivors and another pan-and-tilt camera mounted several feet up to see the obstacles we’re facing.” It even hauls down supplies once survivors are located.

So how do you control the Gemini Scout? Anticipating the need to learn how to use the robot quickly and easily, they used the Xbox 360 game controller.

“We focused a lot on usability and copied a lot of gamer interfaces so that users can pick it up pretty quickly,” says Sandia engineer Justin Garretson, the lead software developer.

Well played Sandia, well played…

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