Home > Blog Post, Robot > Greymouth rescue robot fails. Others follow.

Greymouth rescue robot fails. Others follow.

Robot and operator

Photo credit: NZ Defence/ZDNet Australia

Picture the adapted bomb-disposal robot sitting at the mouth of the mine near Greymouth, New Zealand. A long optical fibre tail trails behind the Remote Positioning Device Wheelbarrow Revolution. So much is riding on its tracks to reveal the fate of the 29 miners, who have not been heard from since the explosion three days before. The robot begins to move, four cameras pointing into the darkness of the mine. It begins to ride into the hole, but 550m in, somehow water gets into its electricals, and it breaks down, apparently beyond repair. The call goes out around the world for a rescue robot that can help. (see ZDNet story and ABC story). Two more robots, from Australia and the US converge on the mine site (story). The Australian robot, owned by Water Corporation in WA., is usually used  for wastewater and drainage. It is controlled by optical fibre allowing it a 6km range.

Rescue robots are among the more compelling robot applications, particularly if they can prove themselves as reliable explorers of the places where people can’t go. They promise to reveal truth in the unknown, and provide a hope where it is dwindling. In Japan, robot researchers have worked for some time on rescue robots, particularly for earthquakes and toxic/radioactive events. I met Prof Fumitoshi Matsuno in Korea recenty. He said he had a transformation in his research direction after experiencing the earthqukae in Kobe in 1995. (Use Firefox 3.6.12 for translation on this page).

RoboRescue competitions have been held since 2001 (e.g. RoboRescue 2009 and 2010). Competitors must perform a series of increasingly difficult tasks such as traversing stairs and avoiding obstacles and finding victims. The UNSW CASualty team came second in the competition in 2009., and performed well in Mobilty and Autonomy in 2010. This competition seems more connected to actual robot applications than the original Robocup competition, founded in 1997 with the supposed aspiration of creating soccer playing robots that can challenge World Cup human teams by 2050. Rather than compare robots with humans, and model human capabilities, it seems more likely that the differences will be the greatest sources of value.

The question with the robot in Greymouth must be the extent to which a robot designed for one application (e.g. searching a car for bombs) can be applied to another application (descending 2km into a mine). Will it be possible to build general purpose robots, or will it be more effective to develop special purpose robots for each task domain?

Categories: Blog Post, Robot
  1. December 13, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Did you watch THE HURT LOCKER? Pretty interesting from a human-robot-relationship POV.

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