Engineers in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University took home some bragging rights at this year's Disaster Robotics Awards when judges named Snakebot the 2017 Ground Rescue Robot of the Year.
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Snakebot helped search through the rubble for survivors after last fall's Mexico City earthquake.
Presenting the award were representatives from the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR), a nonprofit research group dedicated to exploring the use of robotics in disaster relief efforts.
CMU robotics professor Howie Choset and systems scientist Matt Travers are the brains behind Snakebot. Their creation can propel itself into confined spaces that dogs and people cannot reach.
The robot consists of several actuated joints that work together to produce a range of motions. Snakebot can stand slither, roll, stand up to pull itself over obstacles, and climb a variety of objects and surfaces.
A small team from CMU traveled to Mexico City last fall to deploy Snakebot in a collapsed apartment building. Although no survivors were found, the robot performed well, broadcasting video back to rescuers outside. The efforts allowed rescuers to focus on other areas, sparing manpower that was stretched thin.
"Being asked to go down to Mexico City to help in the response was a really amazing experience, albeit under less than ideal circumstances," Travers said. "Putting boots on the ground, even if only for a few days, showed us not only what our robot could and could not do, but allowed us to interact with first responders and to experience their world."
Robotics firm Sarcos makes a similar multi-jointed snake robot, although the Sarcos model has treads on either end and is primarily used in inspection tasks.
DJI also picked up some accolades at the ceremony. DJI's Mavic Pro flew hundreds of flights following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In recognition, CRASAR named it Aerial Rescue Robot of the Year.
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A surfboard-size system from Hydronalix, the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard (EMILY), was named Marine Rescue Robot of the Year.
"These robots enable life-saving decision making for responders and emergency managers," said Robin Murphy, director of CRASAR and a professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M University. "Rescue decisions and critical infrastructure decisions during that response phase are made very rapidly based on the best available information at the time and these robots, well-deployed with the right teams of operators and experts, are getting key information to decision makers so they can save lives and efficiently manage risk."