Bomb disposal, it goes without saying, is an extremely dangerous job.
Bomb disposal teams prefer to stay as far away from their work site as humanly possible, preferably only interacting via remote-controlled, expendable robots. Unfortunately, bomb disposal is also an extremely delicate job, and most robots lack the finesse to properly disarm a bomb.
To address this problem, researchers at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory have added a pair of sophisticated prosthetic arms to a new bomb disposal robot, the Bimanual Dexterous Robotics Platform.
The BDRP, known to the less acronyphilic as Robo-Sally, has been in development since 2008. While her original configuration was based on a two-wheel, Segway-like design, the current Sally is built more like an ATV, sporting four rugged wheels that can hump her electronics across even the most demanding terrain.
To give her a sense of where she’s going, Sally has two mounted video cameras that give her forty-two degrees of freedom throughout her neck, torso, and base. All of these degrees of freedom are meant to amplify the effectiveness of Sally’s most important tools, her prosthetic arms.
Thanks to research that the APL has been conducting since the late 1970s, Johns Hopkins’ prosthetic technology is among the most advanced in the world. The model Sally carries is based on the Modular Prosthetic Limb that the APL developed for DARPA as part of their Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program.
Sally’s MPL is most remarkable in its ability to give operators an amazing degree of vital real-time control. To activate the arm, an operator wearing a special sensor-laden glove manipulates his arms and hands, and Sally mimics these movements. The sensors in the glove are so precise that Sally can actuate individual joints in her hands and fingers to exactly mimic what’s happening on the operator’s end. At the moment, Sally is somewhat hampered by her inability to transmit tactile sensations, but that feature is sure to be on its way.
In field tests, Robo-Sally has shown her ability to man a checkpoint, check a driver’s ID, and uncover and transport an IED, proving that her new hands are perfectly adequate for the job.
As DARPA’s robotics initiative continues to push the limits of how robots can help us both on and off the battlefield, expect Robo-Sally to be leading the way in the development of advanced robotics.
Watch a Video of Robo-Sally in Action:
And Another About Her Evolution:
Images and Video Courtesy of Johns Hopkins APL