Researchers have made a new reconfigurable robot capable of moving under water and which could be used in search and rescue operations. The researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK set the robot called Modular Hydraulic Propulsion (MHP) the task to detect and move towards a light source.
“One of the challenges in robotics is to make robots small enough so that they can travel through confined spaces that are otherwise inaccessible,” said Roderich Gross from the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, who is leading the team.
MHP could offer new solutions to problems requiring reconfigurable systems to move precisely in 3D confined spaces, such as the inspection of underground water pipes, the researchers said.
“One potential use for a robot like this is during search and rescue operations in an underwater environment. You may not know the situation in advance, and the robot will have to adapt to whatever it faces, said Matthew Doyle, a PhD student from the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering who has been working on the project.
“The modules could split up and search for survivors more quickly and recombine to lift a heavy object and open up a passageway,” Doyle said. In the future, miniaturised versions of MHP robots may even enter the vascular network to monitor the health of patients or deliver drugs in a targeted manner.
“This type of robot could also be used by utility companies wanting to deal with blockages or faults in pipes that are difficult and expensive to access from the surface,” Doyle said.
The research was funded by an Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council grant. Scientists are now hoping to develop the research further and look at how smaller versions of the modules could travel through 3D confined spaces and solve problems of increasing complexity.
They will reveal their findings later this week at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA2016) - the largest gathering in robotics, being held this year in Stockholm, Sweden.