New robot designed to rescue trapped miners

Posted by Kate Taylor

A new robot designed to search out trapped miners in the event of an accident can navigate through 18 inches of water, crawl over boulders and rubble piles, and move in ahead of rescuers to evaluate dangerous environments.

Sandia National Laboratories robotics engineers say the Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot would eliminate some of the unknowns of mine rescue operations.

"We have designed this robot to go in ahead of its handlers, to assess the situation and potential hazards and allow operations to move more quickly," says Jon Salton, Sandia engineer and project manager.

"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."

 Less than four feet long and two feet high, the robotic scout can haul food, air packs and medicine to those trapped underground. It is equipped with two-way radios and can even be configured to drag survivors to safety.

To make it intuitive to use for new operators, the builders used an Xbox 360 game controller to direct Gemini-Scout.

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

It's designed to negotiate nearly every known mine hazard, says the team. For example, methane and other gases can ignite if exposed to sparks, so the electronics are housed in casings designed to withstand an explosion.

"When we were designing a robot that could provide this level of assistance, we had to be aware of the pressures and gases that are often found in that environment,” says engineer Clint Hobart.

"So we had to make sure the strength of materials matched what our goals were, and we had to keep everything lightweight enough so it could navigate easily."