In 2012, Clearpath Robotics decided to give away a customized Husky UGVto 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 explodes, 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.
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