Unmanned Ground Systems Division
For ground vehicles, terrain is everything-it is a resource that provides shelter and hiding spots, but it is also an obstacle course. Ground vehicles must take into account a three-dimensional environment, which adds a great deal of complexity to the mapping and path-planning programs needed to enable the vehicles to avoid hindrances such as buildings, trees, and hills. Autonomous ground vehicles depend on accurate knowledge such as maps and aerial photographs, in combination with new information collected by their sensors on the ground, in order to successfully carry out their missions.
Ground vehicles face conditions that may make movement impossible. For instance, heavy vehicles may sink in quicksand, and they cannot move through bodies of water, up cliffs, or down steep ravines. The environment itself may interfere with communication. Therefore, systems must be in place that enable ground vehicles to independently make correct decisions regarding their mission plan-even when unforeseen conditions arise.
Autonomous ground vehicles can be designed to imitate the agility of their living counterparts. For example, the bio-inspired snake robots currently being developed at the Technion have the ability to propel themselves by rolling or moving segment by segment in an inchworm-like fashion which enables them to negotiate extremely rough terrain, moving around, over, or under obstacles, spanning gaps, and entering very narrow openings. Snake robots can crawl and navigate in difficult circumstances, climb walls, pipes, etc., and even swim to maneuver themselves into places that other machines or humans cannot enter.
Snake robots can transmit information about conditions in hostile environments such as buildings that have collapsed following earthquakes or other natural disasters, enemy-held territory in wartime, chemical spills, areas attacked with unconventional weapons, or sea or space exploration. They can be fitted with cameras, microphones and other sensors that can detect signs of life in search and rescue operations; speakers in the robots would allow rescue workers at the base to talk to survivors and reassure them that help is on the way. Sensors could be incorporated to enable snake robots to detect chemical or biological agents. They can be enabled to take samples from the environment being explored and bring them back to the home base.
Snake robots can go places that other remote-controlled autonomous devices cannot. The need for urban search and rescue (USAR) robots was first recognized in 1985 after the Mexico City earthquake, but it was only at the World Trade Center site in the aftermath of 9/11 that robots were actually used. The hyper-redundant robots are tailored to such tasks; they can "look around the corner" and deliver information in a minimally invasive manner.
In addition to a variety of military and USAR applications, these flexible robots can carry out functions ranging from duct maintenance or jet engine inspection, to minimally invasive surgery.