Rescue robots map and explore dangerous buildings, prove there's no 'I' in 'team' (video)

We've seen robots do some pretty heroic things in our time, but engineers from Georgia Tech, the University of Pennsylvania and Cal Tech have now developed an entire fleet of autonomous rescue vehicles, capable of simultaneously mapping and exploring potentially dangerous buildings -- without allowing their egos to get in the way. Each wheeled bot measures just one square foot in size, carries a video camera capable of identifying doorways, and uses an on-board laser scanner to analyze walls. Once gathered, these data are processed using a technique known as simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), which allows each bot to create maps of both familiar and unknown environments, while constantly recording and reporting its current location (independently of GPS). And, perhaps best of all, these rescue Roombas are pretty team-oriented. Georgia Tech professor Henrik Christensen explains:
"There is no lead robot, yet each unit is capable of recruiting other units to make sure the entire area is explored. When the first robot comes to an intersection, it says to a second robot, 'I'm going to go to the left if you go to the right.'"
This egalitarian robot army is the spawn of a research initiative known as the Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST) Collaborative Technology Alliance Program, sponsored by the US Army Research Laboratory. The ultimate goal is to shrink the bots down even further and to expand their capabilities. Engineers have already begun integrating infrared sensors into their design and are even developing small radar modules capable of seeing through walls. Roll past the break for a video of the vehicles in action, along with full PR.


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