ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Sandia National Laboratories is tackling one of the biggest barriers to the use of robots in emergency response: energy efficiency.
Through a project supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Sandia is developing technology that will dramatically improve the endurance of legged robots, helping them operate for long periods while performing the types of locomotion most relevant to disaster response scenarios.
One of Sandia's new robots that showcases this technology will be demonstrated at an exposition to be held in conjunction with the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals next June.
As the finals draw closer, some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world are racing to develop emergency response robots that can complete a battery of tasks specified by DARPA. Competing robots will face degraded physical environments that simulate conditions likely to occur in a natural or man-made disaster. Many robots will walk on legs to allow them to negotiate challenging terrain.
Sandia's robots won't compete in the finals next June, but they could ultimately help the winning robots extend their battery life until their life-saving work is done.
"We'll demonstrate how energy efficient biped walking robots could become. Increased efficiency could allow robots similar to those used for the competition to operate for much longer periods of time without recharging batteries," said project lead Steve Buerger of Sandia's Intelligent Systems Control Dept.
Batteries need to last for emergency response robots
Battery life is an important concern in the usefulness of robots for emergency response.
"You can have the biggest, baddest, toughest robot on the planet, but if its battery life is 10 or 20 minutes, as many are right now, that robot cannot possibly function in an emergency situation, when lives are at stake," said Buerger.
The first robot Sandia is developing in support of the DARPA Challenge, is known as STEPPR for Sandia Transmission Efficient Prototype Promoting Research. It is a fully functional research platform that allows developers to try different joint-level mechanisms that function like elbows and knees to quantify how much energy is used.
Sandia's second robot, WANDERER for Walking Anthropomorphic Novelly Driven Efficient Robot for Emergency Response, will be a more optimized and better-packaged prototype.
Energy-efficient actuators key to testing
Click to view video footage of energy efficient legged robotics research at Sandia National Laboratories.