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Kinect-powered rescue robot

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Kinect hacks have ranged from completely useless, to amusing, to pretty damned awesome. They’ve not, to mind, been actually very useful. That’s changed, as the tech now has a practical application that’s for more than just playing games, augmented reality, or improved user interfaces.

The Warwick Mobile Robotics team has a created a little robot that’s capable of accurately modelling its surroundings, and helping identify places, like under rubble or collapsed building where survivors may be trapped. The hardware allowing the little robot to do its job? Yup, Microsoft’s motion gaming peripheral, Kinect.

“The whole idea is to protect the lives of the rescuers,” explained mechanical engineer Peter Crook. “It’s not really designed to bring people who are stuck there out, but it would mean that the rescue services know where they are.”“What you’d have is a team of maybe two people – it doesn’t take a lot of manpower – and they’d set up outside. From a safe distance they’d drive the robot in and then use that robot to look for victims.” "It also produces a 3-D map at the same time, so what you will then have back on the computer is a whole map of the interior of the building. You could then streamline your rescue process."

Surprisingly, considering its ability to help save lives, the device isn’t in full production and the team behind it is still looking for funding. Last year, their robot bagged first place at the European Robocup Rescue championship, a competition that frankly, sounds made up. “We raise all our own funding and so cost is a massive issue for us in what we can and can’t produce.”

Kinect’s 3D mapping on the cheap has allowed the team to build their bots at a cost about £2000 lower than they’d be using other mapping technologies, and with Microsoft’s PC-based Kinect SDK on the way, the device is only set to improve. “It’s definitely good news for us,” said Cook.

Anybody else get flashbacks of the awesome Robot Wars?

Had the device been in production, it could have been effectively deployed in Christchurch New Zealand, site of the country’s terribly destructive earthquakes, where it could potentially have helped save lives. Kinect, as a technology, is incredible. As a means for video gaming though, it still has a lot to prove.


Source : VG247

Last Updated: February 28, 2011

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