DOE Lab Demonstrates Mine Rescue Robot

Its designers say the robot can enter first and crawl over debris to assess the dangers and give responders information about them before they go into a mine following an accident.

Sandia National Laboratories robotics researchers showed off their Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot at the Unmanned Systems North America 2011 conference in Washington, D.C., in mid-August. They say the robot has been designed to negotiate nearly every known hazard encountered after an underground mine disaster and to assess the situation so responders know what they will face.

NIOSH funded the robot's development for the past three years, and MSHA is likely to be the primary customer, they said.

"We have designed this robot to go in ahead of its handlers, to assess the situation and potential hazards and allow operations to move more quickly," said Jon Salton, Sandia engineer and project manager. "The robot is guided by remote control and is equipped with gas sensors, a thermal camera to locate survivors, and another pan-and-tilt camera mounted several feet up to see the obstacles we're facing."

Less than 4 feet long and 2 feet tall, Gemini-Scout can navigate around tight corners and over safety hatches a foot high. It can carry food, air packs, and medicine to trapped workers and is equipped with two-way radios. It can be configured to drag survivors to safety. according to Sandia's news release.

Gemini-Scout's electronics are housed in casings designed to withstand an explosion. "Such measures would prevent a spark from causing further destruction. While it might harm the robot, it wouldn't create another dangerous situation for the miners or rescuers," Salton said. "When we were designing a robot that could provide this level of assistance, we had to be aware of the pressures and gases that are often found in that environment," added Sandia engineer Clint Hobart, who was responsible for the mechanical design and system integration. "So we had to make sure the strength of materials matched what our goals were, and we had to keep everything lightweight enough so it could navigate easily."

A video showing the robot in operation is posted at this YouTube page.

The conference was the the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Unmanned Systems North America 2011 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

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