Robot Takes on Landmine Detection While Humans Stay Very Very Far Away

It doesn't get much more dangerous than searching for unexploded landmines, but this robot is fearless (and replaceable)

2 min read
Robot Takes on Landmine Detection While Humans Stay Very Very Far Away

In 2012, Clearpath Robotics decided to give away a customized Husky UGV to a worthy cause, and what could be more worthy than keeping us humans from getting blown up. The University of Coimbra in Portugal has taken its free Husky and turned it into an clever little autonomous mobile mine detector.

Huskies don't come stock with the ability to detect mines. Or rather, they may be able to detect one single mine once. By accident. Catastrophically. To get the robot all set to not blow itself (or anyone else) into tiny little chunks, the team at Coimbra added sensors for navigation and localization (GPS, stereo vision, and a laser), as well as (more importantly) a customized two-degrees-of-freedom arm equipped with both a metal detector and a ground penetrating radar system.

The reason why you want to have a robot doing mine detection is fairly obvious: if the robot gets explodified, you can just buy another one. But the argument for autonomous systems is also one of sheer volume: there are something like 110,000,000 active landmines out there right now, just waiting to do bad stuff to people. And they're horrifically effective at it, killing and injuring tens of thousands of people each year.

At full blast, humans (and rats) are clearing out about 100,000 mines every year, giving us about A THOUSAND YEARS before we'd be able to clear up all of them. So we need robots. Smart robots. Inexpensive robots. And lots of them. To that end, the project has been folded into Tiramisu, which is both a tasty dessert and a humanitarian demining project in Europe.

This is great research. Really, really great. But detecting the mines is only half of what needs to be done: they still have to be dealt with somehow. Our suggestion is to crossbreed a Grizzly with one of these monstrosities and just beat those landmines into explosive submission.

The researchers plan to present additional results at ICRA 2014, which is coming up, um, kind of soon, actually.

Via [ Clearpath Robotics ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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