Use of robotics in mine rescue operations can decrease rescue time and avoid additional human casualties from explosive gases and collapse. Past efforts have yielded robots designed to accomplish this task, but were restricted in their communication implementations. In an underground mine setting standard wireless communication is not feasible because of the signal's inability to penetrate the walls of the mine and reach the surface. This has necessitated the use of cumbersome fiber optic tethers in such scenarios.
The purpose of this research is develop a compact robotic platform and software package for autonomous swarm-based setup of wireless mesh networks in mining disasters. It will incorporate a collection of COTS sensors (e.g. ultrasonic, LIDAR, CMOS) and transceivers for navigation and coordination with other robots, as well as specific sensors for human detection. By employing mesh networking versus traditional wireless or tethered communication the system will maintain a consistent link with rescue teams without a tether, allowing for more rapid and flexible deployment.
Work this semester will include the development of a single low-cost prototype platform and accompanying computer simulation for testing various multi-robot implementations. This will minimize initial costs while allowing for feasibility analysis of continued development. Over the course of the subsequent 18 months the platform will be refined and duplicated, shifting from simulation to real-world testing.
Initial funding will come from out-of-pocket and personal donations, ideally supplemented with SURG and other official resources in the future. Both on and off-campus facilities will be used in the physical development and testing of prototypes.