Three students at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute have accepted a challenge from the U.S. Air Force to transform a wheel chair into an autonomous security robot that could help protect unmanned installations, according to WPI’s website.
The Air Force ran the challenge for the first time in 2017, but the three teams that competed ultimately ran into obstacles they couldn’t overcome.
This year, the WPI team was the only one to accept this particular challenge. The team consists of seniors Marissa Bennett, Ken Quartuccio and Jeff Tolbert.
“The robot itself has to be thermally equipped to maintain a lot of different electronics onboard,” said Bennett, according to the WPI story. “It needs to keep them at a stable operating temperature, whether it’s below zero or in extreme heat, so the robot can function no matter where it is. For instance, we’re coming up with a way for the robot to cool itself by pushing air through itself as it’s moving.”
Equipped with off-the-shelf sensors, cameras and video equipment, the robot must also be able to unplug itself from a charging base station, then quickly and autonomously navigate to the spot where the intrusion was detected.
Once at the site, the robot must be able to transmit photos and video of what’s happening there to an Air Force base, where humans will decide if security guards need to be dispatched.
The three students are building the proof-of-concept robot with the goal of demonstrating technology the Air Force one day could use to safeguard thousands of unmanned bases, such as missile silos, around the world. The military wants to have robots at these bases that can respond to and investigate intrusion alarms and other warnings within two minutes.
“The part that will be useful for us is to see which algorithms work better than what the Air Force has been working on,” said James Gilland, a research team manager at Ohio Aerospace Institute, which is running the challenge for the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Minnesota-based Action Trackchair provided a track chair for the students to use in the challenge, which is designed to move over dirt, grass and snow, as well as through water. The team is using about $8,000 for supplies.