During this year’s International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Vancouver, Canada, Honda offered the general public a glimpse into the future of disaster response.
Entitled “Development of Experimental Legged Robot for Inspection and Disaster Response in Plants,” the culmination of Honda’s robotics research and development was presented in the form of E2-DR, an experimental synthetic hero who can go places that human responders cannot.
Its list of planned features is impressive:
- Three-dimensional movements such as stairs, stepladders and vertical ladders with minimum size cages including transitions between ladders and steps
- Moving in narrow free widths and narrow spaces
- Moving over pipes on the floor
- Passing through closed doors along corridors
- Able to absorb contacts while moving
- Moving upon scattered debris
- Perception of environment for planning and monitoring
- Prevention of catastrophic fall when robot loses power while moving in a high place such as stairs and ladders
And its list of accomplished goals is already very promising. E2-DR can already walk on its two bright orange legs — even over piles of debris, and even in the rain — or crawl on all four limbs as needed. It can step over obstacles, climb stairs, transition between floors and ladders from multiple angles, and climb those, too. E2-DR can also rotate its torso 180 degrees, and bend its knees backward. That is certainly something few sapient rescuers could boast.
For its remote operators, E2-DR is fitted with multiple cameras and sensors on both its head and hands. Both traditional and infrared cameras are present, as well as infrared projectors and laser rangefinders.
We still know very little about E2-DR’s ability to absorb impacts, a crucial feature of any tool meant to be useful in such hazardous situations. We also know that in order to make the robot as light and compact as possible, Honda has traded more traditional wiring for optical fiber. Fiber optics are not as tough as traditional cable, but Honda is happy with the results of their testing so far.
Honda is historically tight-lipped about its developments, but it appears that they have something worth boasting about. They are keeping the project’s full scale a “company secret,” but its development is good news all around. With luck, the E2-DR will be saving lives sooner rather than later.
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