MENLO PARK, Calif.--If you've seen the Oscar-winning film "The Hurt Locker," you know how dangerous bomb dismantling can be. But researchers have developed a system that they say can allow military and police to disarm explosives without risking anyone's life.
The system, developed by scientists at SRI International, is known as Taurus, and it is a miniature robot that can allow a trained dismantler to remotely do the work that used to require getting up close and personal, often too close for comfort, to a bomb.
According to Tom Low, SRI's director of medical systems and telerobotics, Taurus will be in field trials this summer and is expected to be commercially available by early 2012. While he would not say specifically what the 14-inch wide robot would cost, SRI's goal is to sell it for "less than the price of a squad car," meaning that many police departments, as well as military agencies, could conceivably buy it.
I got a presentation on Taurus from Low yesterday during a visit to SRI as part of my Road Trip at Home series. I've been to SRI before and seen things like wall-climbing robots, but seeing the way that Taurus could potentially help save lives was a much starker reminder of the ways that robots can make a real difference.
Taurus is a cousin of some of SRI's previous efforts into remote-controlled telemanipulation robotics. For years, the institution has worked on systems designed to allow remote surgical procedures, such as a military doctor being able to operate from afar on a wounded soldier. Low explained that this work began in the mid-to-late 1980s, and was intended to allow highly-trained surgeons to work on such soldiers within minutes of them sustaining injuries.
Over the years, this technology led to the creation of more general-purpose robots, such as the M7 system, which could allow security personnel to remotely explore, say, an abandoned bag at an airport. Low explained that it was crucial that the system be easy to use and quick to learn. … Read more