Imagine this situation: There is a fire in a warehouse creeping toward explosive material.
But instead of the fire department sending in firefighters, a robot saves the day by moving the material to a safe location.
A robotics team at Carnegie Mellon University is working to create that robot.
The team says the robot looks like a monkey and is named CHIMP (CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform).
The machine is being built to work in human situations with tools normal responders would work with.
CHIMP will be CMU’s entry into the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) Robotics Challenge, where robots from teams across the country will compete by responding to disasters similar to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.
Tony Stentz, director of CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center, said the robot will be controlled remotely but also can react autonomously by avoiding collisions and balancing on uneven surfaces.
He said CHIMP will also be able to grab with both its hands and feet in order to operate tools in situations too dangerous for humans.
“I think there’s a great potential for this kind of robot,” Stentz said. “Especially for use in environments where there is a risk of some kind of accident; a risk of an explosion, or a risk of a fire or a risk of a toxic gas leak.”
Stentz said they are planning to build CHIMP over the summer, but its software and simulation testing is almost finished.
He said the robot will also be equipped with sensors, cameras and lasers so it can create a model of its environment and send that back to its operator.
Stentz said CHIMP will also have tracks on its arms and legs in order to move around in its environment.
"Rather than attempting to do something difficult and complex like stepping over rubble, the robot drops down on all fours and it drives over the rubble like a tank would,” he said.
CMU is participating in DARPA’s challenge because they understand how useful robots can be in emergency situations, and because they like the thrill of competition, Stentz said.
CHIMP is expected to compete this December against robots designed by NASA, Drexel University, Raytheon (a defense contractor) and Virginia Tech.