During the beginning of my final year of uni, I had to decide on a brief to take forward and work on for the rest of the academic year, and present at the exhibition as my final piece to show what I have learned over the past years and apply it to a single design. An area that I enjoy a lot, is conceptual and futurism design.
Space and technology are among my top interests so for me it only made sense to pursue a project in one of these areas. When choosing a project, I wanted to make sure I could show my lecturers what Ive learnt, so considering I was doing a BSc degree in Product Design, it only made sense to make a technology heavy product. Another few key elements that I wanted to consider, is designing something that helps people, one way or another, and focuses on sustainability.
For some reason I had this idea of a robot stuck in my head since the summer before, so during our first session with our lecturers, I brainstormed ideas for a space-faring robot, for research upon the ISS, moon or Mars. The only real criticism on these projects was the realism. There was no way of testing if this robot, once designed would even work, nor would there be any chance for user testing.
What interests me about robots, is that they are designed to complete jobs better than humans. If a robot can complete a job better than a human, it is fair to say that a robot is better suited for the job than the human counterpart. This also means that sooner or later the robots would replace a human, and yet so much research goes into making robots better than before. During an escalated conversation amongst my colleagues and my lecturers about robots taking over the world, a great idea for a project emerged.
“What if you design a robot that replaces a human because the job puts human lives at risk”
Growing up in California, the first thing that came to mind were fires and earthquakes. Around the globe countless lives are lost to natural disasters annually. I decided to pursue the idea of an earthquake robot. Earthquakes are devastating in 3rd world countries, where the infrastructure is not built to withstand earthquakes like in California, meaning when the disaster strikes, building fall to the ground, and lives are lost in the rubble.
Searching for survivors is tough, as most equipment used is only really effective for a few meters of range, such as sound and vibration sensors, infrared cameras, and camera sticks. While earthquake robots were in development at the time, the only real robot that was implemented in the field was Carnegie Mellon Universities snake robot which was only introduced 3 days after the event, when most survivors are already found. My project brief was as follows:
To design a robot that can be used by various organizations to search for survivors in earthquake devastated environments while also assessing dangers in the environment. Key point to consider include:
- Being more efficient in searches than humans
- Prevent further harm from both rescuers and victims
The first sketches in ideation included research into insects, because of their high-mobility.
Among the insect ideation are also ideas for plug-in life sensors and keychains, but the market I was designing for were 3rd world countries who may not have access to technology like this. After sketching out ideas and researching insects, I quickly realized that even with the high mobility, they are still fragile. This was not a feature I could afford to have on a robot that would venture into unknown territory and could be subject to after shocks. The product should be easy to repair, in the case that it needs repairing between missions.
After moving away from insect and closer to tanks, I sketched through a variety of concepts, testing different forms and functions. Amongst these, was a stilt idea, that would allow the tank to move up steps or small ledges. It would drive 2 stilts from the body and place them in front of the tank, while the tank drives forward. This would in turn allow the front body of the tank to raise and drive up the ledge. After further development and research however, the idea was shelved and I continued with a simple 4-wheel drive tank design.
On the bottom left of the page above, the first concept was completed and CAD work continued from there. During the initial CAD work, I realized the single slanted front panel of the robot could cause problems with the cameras, so instead, the final design includes a flat vertical panel for the cameras and the sensors, while the headlights have been relocated to the bottom of the tank. The LCD screen to display text to the earthquake survivor has also been removed.
The sensors + cameras that made it to final concept are:
- HD camera
- InfraRed Camera
- Gas Sensor
- CO2 Sensor
The sensors are protected by a thin screen mesh, which allows gasses to pass through, but because of its superhydrophobic properties, is able to prevent water from getting to the sensors. The full internals can be viewed on the exploded views.
The prototype runs on a single Arduino, however, to make the robot more efficient and powerful, I would transition to a raspberry pi for the next edition. Arduino isn’t powerful enough to fully interact with cameras, so video runs at around 2.5 frames per second. Raspberry Pi would allow to put more power into the system and have the cameras and the sensors run better. Alongside the sensors, more powerful motors can be added as well. Interaction and controlling of the robot would be done via Wi-Fi, which has a long range and beats all other methods of wireless interaction to fit the needs of the robot.
Below is my exhibition space, along with my presentation boards. The second project on display can be found in my portfolio section by the name of “Gulp”, a sustainable beverage packaging project.
I hope you enjoyed this project as much as I do, if you have any question or would like to contact me, please use my “contact me” page.