UKZN project hopes to send robots to the rescue

2009-05-07 00:00

ROBOTS with a purpose — locating trapped people in dangerous situations — are being developed by the Mechatronics and Robotics Research Group (MR2G) at the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The robots, referred to as the “urban search and rescue and the autonomous sea craft for deep-sea rescue operations”, will be able to go into concealed places and environments where firefighters and sea rescue personnel cannot gain access.

And once they are in, they will be able to identify danger by advising the rescue personnel whether it is safe for them to proceed.

The project is a brainchild of lecturer Riaan Stopforth, who started the MR2G search and rescue division, and Chiemela Onunka, a postgraduate student in mechanical engineering.

While robots have been developed and are currently on the market, Stopforth said many do not have a purpose.

“We wanted to look at … robots that could be used for different types of rescues — robots with a purpose.”

He said rescuers are often faced with extremely dangerous situations and critical time is lost when they cannot enter buildings or large areas of water as a result of unsafe conditions

“With the robots that we are developing, we will improve the body and make them capable of withstanding unstable environments … They will also have improved video transmission, communication, artificial intelligence (AI) and be able to change their shape to adapt to different situations,” added Stopforth.

He believes these specific projects will improve audio communication, which will allow the robots to advise both the victims and rescue personnel on how to approach precarious situations.

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