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Robot takes muscular approach to defusing bombs

posted 9 Aug 2012, 06:13 by Mpelembe   [ updated 9 Aug 2012, 06:15 ]

A team of Colombian students is developing a bomb deactivating robot that responds to human muscle movement. Using sensors and wireless technology, the students say their robot, called Prometheus, will bring a new level of precision to the delicate task of disarming explosives.

Prometheus is a robot that moves in concert with a controller's flexing muscles.
Created by a team of young Colombian engineering students at the El Bosque University in Bogota, the robot detects and responds to the natural electronic pulses triggered by human muscles as they move. It's being designed for use as a bomb deactivation robot. The students say that when fully developed, Prometheus's controlling technology will allow

Colombia's military and police to defuse explosives with greater precision than ever before.

Decades of civil war have left parts of Colombia peppered with unexploded ordnance. Car bombs have killed hundreds.

The four engineering students were inspired by family members who serve in Colombia's military. Their relatives had expressed the need for new tools to help government forces deactivate bombs in the Andean countryside where battles with left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and drug lords have raged for years.

The students quickly got to work on the bomb diffusing robot-car powered wirelessly through myoelectric signals which are produced naturally by muscle movements in the body.

"Prometheus is a robot that is going to help the armed forces make certain activities like deactivating bombs or locating people after natural disasters safer," said one of the students on the team, Jorge Alfonso Bernal Mendiola.

The technology is similar to that used in some prosthetic limbs which allows amputees to mimic the movements of biolohical limbs.

The sensors read the natural electric pulses generated by the muscles and relay them through a computer program and a specialized circuit which sends a wireless signal to the robot.

"By capturing the electric pulses muscles make, amplifying them and filtering them we are able to get a function which we pass through a circuit, a program that we designed on the computer and using radio waves at the right frequency we send them to the car so it works like it is supposed to," said Juan Carlos Calderon Pumarejo.

Another member of the team, Jose Fernando Gomez Davila, says using natural muscle pulses is an important advantage over traditional digital robots because the operator using his own movement to control a robot can apply varying degrees of speed and pressure where a traditional robot would be limited to more rigid constraints.

"The systems that activate the bomb deactivating cars are digital and are very strict. They are steps. On the other hand, using electronic pulses in the body is a more analogue signal which allows for precise control. It isn't a big step from level one to level two. If not at level one, one-point-two, one-point-three, etcetera. It allows for much more sensitive movement of the car and the claws," Gomez said.

The students believe theit robot could be especially beneficial in Colombia where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, have stepped up bombings this year, especially against oil facilities in Latin America's fourth-largest oil producer.

There were 67 attacks on pipelines in the first half of the year, more than three times the number in the same period last year, according to Defence Ministry data.

In a rare attack in Colombia's capital, a bomb targeting a former interior minister tore through his car near the city's financial district in May, killing the driver and a police escort.

FARC attacks have become less common in Bogota since a U.S.-funded military crackdown has pushed the rebels further into remote rural areas where it remains a force to be reckoned with.

The guerillas often stage attacks against police and military installations, set off car bombs in areas already ravaged by drug violence and cause mayhem in remote jungle regions.

Prometheus's name comes from the mythical Greek figure known for his pursuit of scientific knowledge. With bomb attacks on the rise in Colombia, the team hopes their robot will soon be ready to turn knowledge into action.