by September 17, 2001 0 comments



In the age of artificial intelligence, robots form an important part of bomb squads in many countries. While the robot’s operator controls it from a safe distance, this mechanical warrior, fully armed with cameras, grippers, and other tools ventures forth and handles the explosive device. The only problem is that today, the warrior cannot lift a finger unless the operator uses the control panel to move its joints. That’s frustrating in high-pressure cases when the operator is working against extremely tight time limits, and knows that any mistake could lead to high casualties. Sometimes, he gets stuck in situations like having to move the robot’s arm while the camera on the robot gives him a sideways or upside-down view, or doesn’t give him accurate information about distances. The solution here is to put the robot itself in control of its movements, which is what SMART (Sandia Modular Architecture for Robotics and Teleoperation) software from Sandia National Laboratories
does.

Instead of having to move each of the robot’s joints to make it pick up a particular object, the software on the robot can be pre-programmed to make the robot pick it up. The operator is then free to think about what the robot needs to do in a particular situation, rather than focussing on how it will do the task.

SMART’s control algorithms are designed such that components from different vendors can be used to fabricate a robot and will work well with each other right from the start. Its software modules are also ‘stackable’, that is, each module controls a specific component or function of the robot, so that end users can pick and choose what functionality they want.

Sandia has already tested its software on a robot called Wolvervine developed by a company called Remotec
(www.remotec-andros.com). Wolvervine was able to change its tools automatically, place tools, aim a bomb-disrupter and move in straight lines in all directions automatically. Future sensors and tools will focus on other types of functionality needed in law keeping–like sensing proximity, avoiding obstacles, or machine vision. Adding more capabilities will allow these SMART robots to be used in other hazardous areas as well–decontaminating and sealing nuclear and biochemical wastes, cleaning up oil spills, or repairing satellites in outer space.

If things go as planned, these robots may soon make life less hazardous for people working in these areas.

Pragya Madan

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