In the wake of the West Virginia mining disaster, Tom Mashburg of MIT’s Technology Review interviews “Red” Whittaker of Carnegie Mellon on the role of robots as first responders:
Rescue robots in the future will certainly enter mines — under the unknown conditions of dust and gas and inundation and roof fall — and will be crucial for exploring and characterizing conditions and reporting back to command centers. They can carry gas sensors that characterize the atmosphere of a mine. Typically, they would deploy two of those sensors on each machine to make sure there is no mistake in the instruments.
Once robots have the capability to get in and get around, they could also provide communications and visual and map sensing, deliver objects to aid trapped people, like oxygen tanks, and detect vital life signs.
…There is no fundamental barrier to good locomotion or moving through mine conditions or getting command and control via that robot or appending sense detectors or illumination devices or scanners. So useful rescue response robots could be specialized and deployed in the near term — there’s no leap of physics or big missing piece of technology for machines that could move quickly and effectively in mines.
More from The Robotics Institute’s Prof. Red Whittaker…