Autonomous robots to improve disaster relief
An EU-funded project promoted knowledge and skills exchange between Europe and China in the field of robotics. As a result, researchers have come up with a prototype smart rescue robot that could improve cooperation between humans and robots in disaster situations - helping to save lives.
© Andrey Popov #189755402, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Robots can play an important role in recovery operations that present considerable dangers for human rescue teams, such as after earthquakes and nuclear disasters. However, the robots currently used are limited in their ability to interact and cooperate with humans.
The EU-funded RABOT project investigated the challenges facing robots in rescue situations and used this knowledge to design and develop a novel autonomous hybrid leg-wheeled robot. The robot can adapt to uncertain environments through this parallel mechanism for movement.
As a result of the projects worker exchange programme, partnerships were established between European and Chinese research institutions and universities. These have led to a series of tangible results for the participating organisations.
The Shanghai Jiao Tong University team demonstrated a baby elephant robot where the movement was implemented using a parallel mechanism, designed to verify the proposed methods, says Hongnian Yu of Bournemouth University in the UK. The Bournemouth team developed a capsule robot for collecting information in disaster environments, along with wearable devices such as sensors.
Innovations in robotics
The Romanian Academy of Sciences team designed control interfaces and developed a portable robot testing platform to optimise the mechanical structure of rescue robots; the Chinese Academy of Science investigated sensing and control to enhance robot manipulation by humans; and the Yanshan University team developed a wheelchair that can climb stairs.
The researchers made advances in robot movement, remote sensing in disaster areas and robot-human interfaces. Project teams designed the flexible leg-wheeled movement with three-degrees-of-freedom parallel leg mechanisms and RABOT partners modelled an improved dynamic walk for rescue robots, using cutting-edge zero moment point methods.
The project partnerships led to the invention of six depth-of-field sensors, for collecting information in disaster zones and optimising movement, and new hydraulic actuators for hexapod robots. They developed novel haptic interfaces using advanced control technologies, drawing on disciplines such as extenics and mechatronics, which the partners adapted for the real-time control of robots for the first time.
An interaction control approach allows human operators to feel the environment better and manipulate the slave robot intuitively, explains Yu. A multi-robot coordination control approach will enable multiple robots to cooperate when deployed for rescue tasks.
Search and rescue
RABOT consortium members have submitted four patents concerning robot movement and haptic interfaces one in the EU and three in China and received five awards for their work.
The consortium won another Horizon2020 project, called SMOOTH Smart robots for firefighting, to continue developing this work, says Yu. The new project aims to innovate a smart robot-assisted firefighting platform to perform search and rescue, and to facilitate efficient decision-making.
EU funding through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme enabled 77 exchange visits, involving 46 researchers. The project also provided direct training for about 270 people through project workshops and seminars.
The consortium has laid the groundwork for a long-term, sustainable international consortium in intelligent robotics for rescue and recovery operations.