Antbots to aid rescuers in natural disasters

Researchers at the University of Maryland Robotics Center are building tiny robots to help out rescue efforts in natural disasters.
Written by Amy Kraft, Weekend Editor on

When disaster strikes, rescue workers throw themselves into risky territory to try and save lives. But now researchers want to enlist tiny robots to do the dirty work.

Nuno Martins and colleagues at the University of Maryland Robotics Center designed ant-sized, communicating robots to go into a disaster area and relay information on survivors, air quality and radiation levels back to rescue workers outside of the danger zone.

To do so, engineers need to come up with designs for energy-efficient legs for the bots and micro-motors to allow them to move.

Pacific Standard reports:

"It’s not an easy task. The bots’ limbs and wireless communications equipment have to be engineered to work on very little power. Martins is focusing on eliminating complexity as much as possible. “The algorithm has to be simple,” he says. “You cannot have a very powerful computer on a very small footprint with limited battery power. You have to be smart with design.”

"To achieve his goals, Martins is taking a hybrid approach to building the bots’ brains. In some cases they may rely on standard digital processing—using a microprocessor and 1s and 0s like a computer—and in others the robots will have to use tiny mechanical and electronic switches to perform computations. He’s hoping this will make the tiny power-light army better at thinking and troubleshooting when they encounter a situation they haven’t experienced before."

Martins and his team are currently working with prototype bots that are 1.5 square centimeters in size and cost $20 to $30.

Martins says that someday he thinks the robots could also be used to ensure the stability of new building foundations and perform surveillance for the military.

Antbots to the Rescue  [Pacific Standard]

Photo via flickr/sanchom

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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