The best possible distance between a person and a bomb is “as far away as possible.” That’s not a choice bomb squads always get to make, as their very work puts them in harm’s way to protect everyone else. It’s no surprise, then, that bomb disposal is one of the best fields for robots, who can do some of the job a human can, with far less tragic consequences in the event of a failure. To further improve these bomb squad robots, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have made a sensor for robots that can provide a 3D scan of the interior of a suspicious package.
Here’s how the researchers describe their system:
The system the researchers have developed comprises a multimodal sensor suite consisting of a millimeter wave scanner, a high-resolution digital camera, and a 3D environment monitoring system. The components are contained in a housing and mounted on a robot platform. Bomb disposal engineers remotely control the robot from a safe distance. Its swiveling 3D sensors make a three-dimensional survey of the crime scene, and the digital camera provides high-resolution images for later optical evidence preservation. Meanwhile the millimeter wave sensor scans the source of danger and creates an image of what’s inside. A built-in embedded PC on the robot collects the data and sends it to the investigators, where it will be merged on the computer by means of sensor data fusion.
After the robot scans the package, experts can examine what’s inside, and make a call about whether or not to destroy the suitcase. Having that information is helpful for the actual process of defusing. It also provides a record that experts can then hand off to law enforcement looking to track down bombers.
Presently, if a bomb squad wants to look inside a package, they have to have the robot carry it and place it in a mobile x-ray station, which could risk dislodging some part of the bomb in the process. Scanning the bomb as it sits means experts get the information fast, without jostling the package.
The sensor is scheduled to begin demonstrations this year, with the full sensor suite available for bomb squad robots planned for 2019.