Robot sets sights on earthquake victims

18th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

18 July 2007, Koblenz, Germany (dpa) - Robbie 8 surveys the terrain. With a quiet humming noise, the tiny robot scans the area for sources of heat. If it finds any, it moves closer and examines them in detail.

18 July 2007

Koblenz, Germany (dpa) - Robbie 8 surveys the terrain. With a quiet humming noise, the tiny robot scans the area for sources of heat. If it finds any, it moves closer and examines them in detail.

"Victim found," it informs its home computer via wireless connection as it signals its success with a flashing blue light.

Robbie 8 is a robot developed by German information technology students with the long-term goal of helping in the rescue of earthquake victims. It is also a world champion.

Earlier this month it came top of its category in the RoboCup in Atlanta where nearly 300 teams from 33 countries competed in the annual showcase of artificial intelligence at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The students at the University of Koblenz-Landau have spent more than two years developing Robbie 8, which is designed to work independently by using real-time reasoning, unlike other rescue robots which are operated by remote control.

The battery-powered robot, which looks like a toy truck, is equipped with three cameras, 16 ultrasonic sensors, a laser scanner, heat sensors and a mini-laptop.

It sits on four wheels which it uses to navigate its way across rough terrain. Using the scanner, the robot compiles a map of the area and marks it with the locations of victims it finds.

"Such robots are designed for use in areas that are inaccessible to rescuers or can be reached only with great difficulty," says project leader Johannes Pellenz.

In the RoboCup competition in Atlanta, Robbie had 20 minutes to find his "victims" - shop window dummies wrapped in heated blankets.

Student Peter Schneider, who monitored the robot by computer, said Robbie scored most points for the map it drew of the affected region.

It also positioned its cameras in such a way that the images were recognizable on the main computer that someday might be operated by real-life rescue workers.

"In five to 10 years, maybe, we will have rescue robots operating on the basis of the technology we are developing," says Schneider.

Schneider and Pellenz says the main objective of the project is to gain experience for use in the development of autonomous vehicles.

The deployment of Robbie in earthquake disaster zones is only a by-product, says Dietrich Paulus, head of the Active Sight working group at the university's Computer Visual Technology Department.

At present, Robbie is far from perfect. Schneider says he is often distracted by other sources of heat and attempts to negotiate terrain that is too steep for it. When this happens, the operator on the main computer has to press an emergency button to stop it.

Robbie 8 is the latest in a series that started six years ago when Paulus developed Robbie 1. The first model functioned as a "receptionist" who showed visitors around the university's IT centre.

Robbie 4 played football and Robbie 5 toured the campus, collecting small trash cans and bringing them to a larger container.

While the students are celebrating Robbie 8's Atlanta triumph, they are already busy with his successor. Robbie 9 is planned as a racing robot that can take part in slalom events.


DPA

Subject: German news

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