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Hopping mobility concept for search and rescue robots

Steven Dubowsky (Mechanical Engineering Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA)
Samuel Kesner (School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA)
Jean‐Sébastien Plante (Department of Mechanical Engineering, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Canada)
Penelope Boston (Earth and Environmental Science Department, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, New Mexico, USA)

Industrial Robot

ISSN: 0143-991x

Article publication date: 2 May 2008

Abstract

Purpose

This paper seeks to present recent work demonstrating the feasibility of Microbots' mobility in rough terrain. Microbots are a new search and rescue concept based on the deployment of teams of small spherical mobile robots. In this concept, hundreds to thousands of cm‐scale, sub‐kilogram Microbots are released over a search site such as collapsed building rubble or caves. Microbots use hopping, bouncing, and rolling to infiltrate subterranean spaces in search of possible survivors.

Design/methodology/approach

The feasibility of the Microbot mobility concept is evaluated through laboratory prototypes and mobility simulations.

Findings

Experimental studies have demonstrated the feasibility of using dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) to generate autonomous hops. High‐efficiency hydrogen fuel cells were shown to be able to power DEAs. Simulation results show that Microbots of proper diameter and hop height can successfully traverse very rough terrains.

Research limitations/implications

The implication of this research is that small hopping robots are appropriate for certain search and rescue missions. The limitation of the research to date is that issues of control, path planning, and communication have not yet been addressed.

Practical implications

Key technologies of the Microbot mobility, that use high‐energy‐density micro fuel cells combined with low cost and lightweight DEAs, are feasible. These technologies have the potential to make a significant impact on the search and rescue robots.

Originality/value

These results suggest that a team of Microbots‐based DEAs and micro fuel cells can be a useful and effective tool for search and rescue operations.

Keywords

Citation

Dubowsky, S., Kesner, S., Plante, J. and Boston, P. (2008), "Hopping mobility concept for search and rescue robots", Industrial Robot, Vol. 35 No. 3, pp. 238-245. https://doi.org/10.1108/01439910810868561

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited