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Trio of pole-climbing robot may save construction workers' lives

By Hari Krishnan

Washington, December 14 (ANI): Virginia Tech researchers have bagged a grand prize at the 2008 International Capstone Design Fair for creating a trio of pole-climbing serpentine robots that can one day dangerous jobs like inspecting high-rises or underwater bridge piers, and thereby save lives of construction workers.

The team Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) of the College of Engineering has been awarded the cash prize of 1 million won, South Korean currency, for creating the three robots named the HyDRAS-Ascent, the HyDRAS-Ascent II, and CIRCA.

The event took place at Seoul National University of Technology in South Korea.

The robots climb scaffolding and buildings by wrapping around a poll or beam and rolling upward through an oscillating joint motion.

Dennis Hong, the faculty adviser on the project, said that the robot's in-built sensors and cameras could help them inspect the structures or handle other dangerous tasks, which are presently performed by humans.

The robots are each roughly three feet in length, and use a movement unique even in nature, he said.

"These are really wicked cool robots," he added.

While the HyDRAS robots operate using electric motors, the CIRCA robot uses a compressed air muscle.

"The use of compressed air makes this approach feasible by enabling it to be light weight, providing compliant actuation force for generating the gripping force for traction, and allowing it to use a simple discrete control scheme to activate the muscles in a predetermined sequence," Hong said.

The robots are currently handled with a system that involves a tethered wire attached to a laptop.

The researchers hope to reconfigure them to function independently using an onboard microprocessor and power source. (ANI)

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