Monday, April 02, 2007

ROBOVOLC --- volcanic exploration

U036786J Yeo Kelly

Following the successful launch of robot on the surface of Mars, many new robots have been designed for planetary exploration. One of which is volcanic exploration, because of the strong terrain similarities and due to the high danger volcanic activities pose to human.

ROBOVOLC is a mobile robot built for volcanic exploration. This project is a partnership between 2 Universities in Italy and U.K., 2 industrial and 2 research organizations.

Surfaces on which ROBOVOLC moves are very rough and disconnected especially those that occur close to or inside volcanic craters. Therefore the robot needs sophisticated assembly to move safely up the steep gradient and unstable surfaces. It is built with 6wheels, equipped with semi-active joints and the weight (<200Kg) and dimension (1.7m x 1.2m x 0.8m) of the system were carefully chosen to allow the system to be transported easily to the proximity of a volcanic crater. ROBOVOLC operates on hybrid Internal Combustion (IC) engine generator in combination with the batteries, as a back up and recharge system.

There are 2 navigation methods: autonomous or semi-autonomous:

Autonomous mode models the cognitive processes and is used when the location to explore is known or when tele-operation is not available. Hence path-planning will move the automated robot to a specific position in the volcanic area and perform the tasks required.

On the other hand, when unexplored region is being investigated, an operator will tele-operate the robot from a safe distance via the use of a high power wireless LAN interface video link. Then making use of the 4 cameras installed on each side of the rover and a 5 degree of freedom manipulator, it is able to observe the volcanic site and collect samples of rocks and gases, as well as, drop and pick up instruments.

When navigating, the current position of the robot must be determined via localization; its surroundings must be sensed and mapped; and finally decisions must be made as to how best to proceed.

Localization is done mainly by using a DGPS (Ashtec model Z-Xtreme) algorithm, which is a sensor system. Then with the exact location of the robot known, navigation and reconstruction of the terrain morphology can be carried out.

In this way, researchers can learn and better understand the on-going activities at the volcanic site and help predict and prevent unnecessary casualties.


dars.explore said...

I'm just wondering how reliable the autonomous mode of operation is. If the autonomous mode is just used to handle way-points mapped beforehand, then I believe that this robot is nothing more than just having better equipment while using robots with long range control, an age-old concept in exploration. If the robot is able to explore volcanic craters the way the mine-mapping robot is able to explore mines, then I believe this robot would be very useful for geological explorations.

dars.explore said...

Oops. Forgot my name for the above post.

Htun Lin Oo U059294W

dars.explore said...

I agree that unlike the mine-mapping robot which can make decisions by itself on how and where to go, the extent of decision making by ROBOVOLC is quite limited.

It is able to perform cognitive thinking only when the tele-operation signal has been disrupted. It can then perform localization to find out its current position and find the best path to proceed on.

Yeo Kelly U036786J

Industry said...

It's about time we have such robots eh... Is this robot commercially available? I was wondering if the material of this robot can withstand the high temperatures when it goes near the crater. This is because there are motors and microcontrollers onboard the device. Overheating will cause them to malfunction unless they have heat tolerance. In addition to that, the components will dissipate heat during operation. This contributes to the heating too. So with a better heat tolerant material, it should be able to get even up close to the volcano. How about into the volcano itself? Possible eh?

Cheong Wen Li, Ronald U036405J

Anonymous said...

There's really no way human being can go close to the volcano as human are vulnerable to volcanic activities. Therefore, robovolc acts as a representative of human in this case and allows us to study and know more about volcano. Cool.

Teo Hong Wee U036472X

dars.explore said...

I look through the website.. but there is none that state the cost price of robovolc. Most probably still in the final testing phase.

Yes it can within high temperature such that it can collect gas and data samples from the vent of the volcano but not to submerge or move into the hot lava in the volcano itself.

Yeo Kelly U036786J