Maria Montero

The CMU team develops a robot and drone system …

On our last day in Pittsburgh, we found ourselves in a decommissioned coal mine. Just northeast of the city proper, Tour-Ed owners go on excursions and tours during the warmer months, despite the fact that the bowels of the mine have a constant temperature of about 50 degrees year-round.

With the snow still melting just past the entrance, a team of students from Carnegie Mellon and Oregon State University are preparing a pair of robots for an upcoming competition. The small team is one of a dozen or so currently competing in DARPA Underground challenge.

The multi-year SUbT competition is designed to “explore new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, search and exploit complex underground environments, including man-made tunnel systems, urban underground networks and natural caves.” Search and rescue missions in underground structures, from mines to caves and subway stations.

The goal of the $ 2 million challenge is to design a system capable of navigating complex underground terrains, in the event of landslides or other disasters. Robots are created to go where human rescuers cannot, or at least shouldn’t.

The CMU team’s solution features multiple robots, with a wheeled rover and a small, hobbyist-style drone taking over the center of the state. “Our system consists of ground robots that will be able to track and follow the terrain,” says Steve Willits of CMU, who is serving as a consultant on the project. “We also have an unmanned aerial vehicle that consists of a hexacopter. It is equipped with all the instrumentation you will need to explore various areas of the mine. “

The mobile uses a combination of 3D and LIDAR cameras to navigate and map the environment, while searching for human beings in the rubble. If you find yourself unable to move, due to debris, small hallways, or a man-made obstacle such as stairs, the drone is designed to lift up from the rear and continue the search.

Meanwhile, the mobile descends from its rear to the ultra-rugged WIFI repeaters like a trail of breadcrumbs, spreading its signal in the process. Most of this is still early stages. While the team was able to demonstrate the rover and drone in action, they have yet to master a method to make them work together.

Testing of the robots will begin in September, with the Tunnel Circuit being followed in March 2020 by the Man-Made Street Circuit and then a Cave Circuit in September. A final event will take place in September 2012.