Robots walk-the-walk in mines rescue

THE CSIRO is developing robotic systems that could potentially be used to reach the victims of mine disasters.
Robots walk-the-walk in mines rescue Robots walk-the-walk in mines rescue Robots walk-the-walk in mines rescue Robots walk-the-walk in mines rescue Robots walk-the-walk in mines rescue

Data61's Weaver robot tackling uneven terrain.

Emergency response teams often need to enter dangerous or confined spaces. However, accessing unknown or unstable areas involves risk.

Legged robots developed by CSIRO's Data 61 division are designed to go where no other robot or human can easily access - for example, a collapsed underground mine site. These nifty bots can safely explore and assess dangerous areas to find survivors before rescue teams are sent in.

Data 61 has been researching legged robots since 2012.

"Robots are on the road to becoming helpers for emergency workers - as well as for those that require confined spaces to be inspected," it said.

"Our legged robots could be deployed to a wide range of applications - from emergency rescue operations or rainforest monitoring."

The legged robots, called hexapods, are modelled on insects with the same number and configuration of legs, such ants and cockroaches. The hexapods are programed with different gaits inspired by their natural counterparts.

Data 61's hexapod Weaver can navigate the toughest of terrains all on its own.

One of the most popular gaits, inspired by running ants and cockroaches, is called the "alternating tripod gait".

The "waive gait", closer to a caterpillar's pattern, is slower but more stable. It is much more useful when navigating sloped or slippery terrain.

Weaver, has five joints on each of its six legs, enabling it to move freely and negotiate uneven terrain easily.

It is also fitted with a pair of stereo cameras, allowing it to create a digital elevation map of an area, and detect any physical obstacles in its path. Thanks to sensors in each of its leg joints, this nifty insect-like bot can measure the forces felt at its foot tips.

When each foot touches the ground, it feeds this information on the ground conditions back through a sequence of algorithms.

In combination with its elevation map, the hexapod can interpret the stability of the surface and then adjust the stiffness of its legs as it travels.

This allows the legged robot to avoid getting stuck or losing balance, by adjusting the flexibility of its leg joints depending on the roughness of the terrain.