Friday, April 15, 2011

Robots to the Rescue: Massachusetts Robots Respond to World Events

MassTLC members gathered at UK Trade and Investment in Cambridge, MA, to hear how three Massachusetts companies are responding to world events. Tim Trainer, VP of Operations, Government and Industrial Robots of iRobot talked about the company’s role in search and rescue operations after 9-11, evaluating oil plumes in the Gulf of Mexico and most recently sending robots to Japan to assist in moving rubble and surveillance after the earthquake and tsunami hit. iRobot sent four robots in all to Japan including two Packbots, one equipped with a hazmat kit, and two Warriors.

Bob Quinn, VP Talon Operations of Qinetiq-NA, had arrived back in Boston from Japan a day earlier than the talk. He stressed that the situation is far from over and the aftershocks we hear about are bigger than most earthquakes. Bob was part of a team training Japanese workers to use the Talon, Dragon Runner and Autonomous Bobcat robots to move contaminated debris, monitor weather and contamination, and to survey areas of the Fukishima plant that are too small or dangerous for workers to enter. These robots are now in operation at the plant being controlled by workers using Xbox game controllers.

Hydroid CEO, Christopher von Alt, talked about how the REMUS 6000, a deep underwater autonomous vehicle (AUV), aided in finding the wreckage of Air France flight 447 in early April. The REMUS 6000 can dive up to 6000 meters and stay underwater for up to 20 hours. Using sonar the AUV was able to create a detailed forensic map of the ocean floor for searchers to use. Hydroid AUV’s have also been used in clearing the Umm Qasr port during the Iraq war, searching for Amelia Earhart’s wreckage, re-detailing maps of the Titanic and completing autonomous surveys of underwater pipelines after storms.

After the presentations, attendees were invited to try controlling the iRobot Packbot and Warrior robots. Qinetiq also brought along their Talon and Dragon Runner robots. Qinetiq even had one of the Autonomous Bobcats in the UKTI parking lot. Even the UK Consul General, Phil Budden, got in on the fun and drove all the different robots.

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