To the rescue

2019-03-07 03:20:06

By Robert Adler A ROBOTIC caterpillar designed to listen for survivors trapped deep inside wrecked buildings has been built by students in North Carolina. The robot—powered by compressed air—would crawl through gas, water and sewerage pipes inside buildings damaged by earthquakes and explosions, listening for signs of life. Eddie Grant, an electrical engineer at North Carolina State University, hatched the idea of a pipe-crawling rescue robot following the bomb that destroyed a government building in Oklahoma City in April 1995. “The rescuers would have given anything to have a robot that could go in and find people,” Grant says. “I realised that pipes are a natural channel into the rubble.” Grant and his colleague John Muth challenged six of their senior engineering students to build a prototype 15 centimetres wide. “They took a crazy idea of mine,” Grant says, “and turned it into a robust and interesting device.” The result, a three-segment, metre-long creature dubbed Moccasin II, runs on compressed air to avoid igniting any escaping gas. To advance, Moccasin inflates four pneumatic pads that wedge the front segment into the pipe. The middle section then pulls the rear segment forward. The rear segment then anchors itself, the front releases its grip, and the middle section shoves it forward. “It’s a simple concept,” Grant says,