The first firefighter robots is an italian experiment, born to collaboration of differents laboratorys.
A metallic ‘marcantonio’ of 1.85 meters for 102 pounds. Walk-Man, the humanoid robot of the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, passes the balance test. His ‘parents’ put him on a diet and in his new slim version he lost 31 kilos, thanks to the use of magnesium alloys, compared to the original 133 kg (Photo). It is not a question of vanity.
The ‘firefighter robot’ has important missions to do: it was designed to extinguish fires and support emergency teams as an ‘avatar’ to be put in the field in disastrous environments; a real life test bench was for him the earthquake of Amatrice, in 2016, when it was tested inside damaged buildings to perform an inspection and provide information on the stability of the structures. To accomplish these businesses the card to play is agility, weight and size count. A ‘slimmer’ figure helps when there are doors and narrow passages to cross.
So the researchers got to work to make it more dynamic and performing. New hands more skilled in handling, new design able to reduce construction costs and improve performance in terms of energy. The scientists took 6 months to complete the tweaks.
A team of about 10 people was involved, led by Nikolaos Tsagarakis, Iit researcher and project coordinator. Now the upper body (bust and arms) is less heavy. The new humanoid robot is made of light metal, such as ergal (60%), magnesium alloys (25%) and titanium, iron and plastic. The legs can move faster, having to carry a lighter upper body mass. Another effect of slimming is that it can react faster to external thrusts, making lateral steps to maintain balance, which allows it to adapt its walk to rough terrain or changing situations.
The “walk man” project | robot firefighter
Quality that has already experienced in the field. His last test was set in a scenario defined by researchers with the Civil Protection of Florence: an industrial plant damaged by an earthquake in which there are debris, gas leaks and fire. A dangerous situation for humans, therefore a mission for Walk-Man.
The scenario was recreated in the laboratory through the construction of a fictitious environment, where Walk-Man was able to move and perform 4 specific tasks: open and cross a door to enter the area; locate an industrial valve and close it, so as to simulate the interruption of the gas leak; remove the obstacles on its path; and finally identify the position of the flames and activate the fire extinguisher.
During the mission the robot was controlled remotely: his ‘mind’ was a human operator who guided him through a virtual interface and wearing a sensorized suit that allows the robot to be operated naturally, controlling its manipulation and locomotion, just like an avatar. The operator continuously receives images and information from the robot’s perception systems. And Walk-Man acts on the field.
Despite his young age – the humanoid for emergencies has been designed and implemented by the IIT in collaboration with other international partners in a project funded by the European Commission since 2013 and being finalized – his career has brought him also in the spotlight of an international stage: in June 2015, Walk-Man was the only Italian project funded by the EU to fly overseas to participate in Los Angeles at the international robotics competition ‘DARPA Robotics Challenge (Drc)’, promoted to define the technological standards of robots able to provide assistance in case of natural or man-made disasters. During the challenge the robot had faced a scenario inspired by the Fukushima nuclear accident.
A HI-TECH Concentrate
In its new version, the bust and arms have a new version of actuators that have optimized their performance: the load capacity is higher (10 kg / arm) than before (7 kg / arm), and can transport and support heavy objects for 10 minutes. The new body part also has more compact dimensions: the shoulder width is 62 cm and the bust depth is 31 cm, for a more suitable profile to pass through narrow spaces.
The hands are a new version of the Soft-Hand robotic hands developed by the E. Piaggio Research Center of the University of Pisa in collaboration with Iit. The fingers, also made of these with a new lightweight composite material, have a better finger-palm ratio (more similar to the human one) which increases the variety of shapes of objects that the robot can grasp.
The entire body is controlled by 32 motors and control boards, 4 force and torque sensors (2 at the feet and 2 at the hands) and 2 accelerometers for balance. His joints show an elastic movement that allows the robot to be ‘soft’ in its actions, experts explain, and to have safe interactions with man and the environment.
Its software architecture is based on XBotCore framework, Yarp, Ros and Gazebo platforms. In the head are cameras, 3D laser scanners and microphones, and in the future sensors can be added to recognize the presence of toxic substances.
The Walk-Man project involved a consortium of research institutes also composed of foreign realities such as the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Epfl) in Switzerland, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Kit) in Germany and the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) in Belgium.