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Powering-Up Emergency Responder Robots


January 14, 2015

Steve Buerger from Sandia National Laboratories demonstrating energy efficient biped robot
Steve Buerger from Sandia National Laboratories demonstrating energy efficient biped robot Picture: Randy Montoya

Two of Sandia National Laboratories’ newest emergency responder robots will be put through their paces for delegates at the prestigious Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge Finals in June.

In conjunction with the event – taking place at the Pomona Fairplex in California -- a global challenge with a $2 million prize purse is underway for international research teams working on improving Responder Bots.


Several problems come up again and again when looking at emergency rescue robots and competing teams have been asked to address them:

  • How to adapt to degraded physical environments, the kind you might find following a natural disaster, without compromising efficiency
  • How can energy efficiencies and improved endurance be achieved

Though Sandia’s prototype emergency response robots STEPPR (Sandia Transmission Efficient Prototype Promoting Research) and WANDERER (Walking Anthropomorphic Novelly Driven Efficient Robot for Emergency Response) will not be competing in June, Sandia team members will definitely be showing their newly developed features.

Battery Life

“We’ll demonstrate how energy efficient biped walking robots could become,” says project lead Steve Buerger of Sandia’s Intelligent Systems Control Dept. 6533. “Increased efficiency could allow robots similar to those used for the competition to operate for much longer periods of time without recharging batteries.”

Battery life is especially important for the usefulness of robots in emergency response. “You can have the biggest, baddest, toughest robot on the planet, but if its battery life is 10 or 20 minutes, as many are right now, that robot cannot possibly function in an emergency situation, when lives are at stake,” says Buerger.

In this video describes early development and initial integration of the Sandia Transmission Efficient Prototype Promoting Research (STEPPR) robot. - Video:Sandia Labs



Another major consideration currently occupying the emergency responder robot sector is robots’ adaptability to physical environment and terrain. Researchers like Buerger are looking at designs for locomotion that can adapt to terrain or extremes in environment without draining the bot’s power reserves.

Sandia’s demo models STEPPR and WANDERER’s electronics and low-level software are being developed by the Open Source Robotics Foundation. The designs will be publicly released, allowing engineers and designers all over the world to take advantage of advances.

Research Partners

Research partners for this project are Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Globe Motors and The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition which is developing energy-efficient walking control algorithms for both robots.

Source: Sandia National Laboratories, Getting bot responders into shape by Stephanie Hilinka

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