In a significant stride toward enhancing search-and-rescue operations and addressing hazardous scenarios, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researcher Markus Nemitz has been awarded a $599,815 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. The grant aims to propel the development of adaptable and cost-effective robots capable of navigating challenging environments.
Nemitz, an assistant professor in WPI’s Department of Robotics Engineering, envisions a future where small and flexible 3D printed robots with integrated fluidic circuits become pivotal tools in disaster response. These robots can venture into perilous spaces that are inaccessible or dangerous for humans.
The core innovation of Nemitz’s project lies in combining soft and printable robotics. He plans to integrate electronic circuits with 3D printed fluidic circuits that utilize pulses of air to store programs, process data, and execute basic tasks for robot control. This approach not only enhances the resilience of the robots against mechanical damage and electromagnetic interference but also extends their capabilities.
“Disasters often demand unique, specialized responses, such as was required for the Tham Luang cave crisis,” said Nemitz.
“There lies immense potential in the development of small robots that are quickly fabricated from soft, flexible materials. These robots can significantly aid rescue efforts by exploring areas that pose potential hazards to humans or are otherwise inaccessible, including earthquake debris, flooded regions, and even nuclear accident sites.”
The initiative holds vast potential beyond search-and-rescue scenarios, with possible applications in space exploration, climate monitoring, and inspections in other hostile settings, but the project’s reach also extends beyond technical advancements. Nemitz is dedicated to fostering inclusivity in robotics by developing a summer camp exclusively for female high school students, alongside a new undergraduate course on printable robotics.
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