Sensors help ‘worm robots’ find trapped people

Sensors help ‘worm robots’ find trapped people
The University of Manchester research team that developed chemical sensors to improve detection of people trapped under debris. (University of Manchester)

Researchers from The University of Manchester in the U.K. are developing chemical sensors that can be mounted onto ‘worm robots.’ The effort is part of a project involving partners in four European countries to improve detection of people trapped under debris after a disaster.

The CURSOR Search and Rescue Kit features robots equipped with chemical sensors that detect a wide range of chemical substances indicating human presence, which are carried from operational headquarters to a disaster site by a drone. On site, the robots work independently in clusters searching for survivors. The initiative not only helps improve detection of survivors trapped in collapsed buildings but also improves working conditions for the first responders.

Also playing a role is the Mothership UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), which acts as an aerial hub that produces high-definition imaging to accurately visualize the disaster zone, and allow communication with the control center.

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The small ‘worm robots’ with the mounted chemical sensors can enter debris through small crevices, and send a signal to people above ground if live persons are detected.

“First responders have practical experience on the field and developers the technical know-how,” said project coordinator Klaus Dieter Büttgen, of the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief, in a statement. “Through this unique collaboration between technical partners, industry, academics and first responders, expertise will be transformed into a novel technology that contributes to locating buried victims more swiftly and with less risk for the people conducting the research operation.”

“One of the problems in coping with disaster situations is the people may be buried under debris or rubble, and it can be difficult to locate them,” added Professor Krishna Persaud of The University of Manchester. “It is also urgent to prioritize the recovery of people who may be alive from those who have sadly passed away.”

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