Virginia Tech is developing ESCHER (Electromechanical Series Compliant Humanoid for Emergency Response) designed, fabricated, and assembled by the engineering students at Virginia Tech. ESCHER is being designed to support a variety of disaster response and search-and-rescue tasks that will allow robots to bear the burden of dangerous environments instead of humans. The robot will perform many tasks autonomously while still allowing for human interaction in critical areas.
Developing a Robot for DRC
An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Virginia Tech has been assembled to design and develop a new humanoid for disaster response. The team includes Prof. Tomo Furakawa, Prof. Brian Lattimer, and Prof. Alex Leonessa leading a team of 18 graduate students and 10 undergraduate students from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science.
The team is pursuing a humanoid design after evaluating the environment and tasks of the DRC. In a real disaster scenario the robot must use and operate in an environment designed for humans, so a human shape and the ability to use human tools are a must. To achieve these tasks a completely new style of robot was formulated by the team that including advanced actuators and robotic mechanisms for large ranges of motion and advanced control systems for natural balancing. This enables human-like locomotion through full-body momentum control.
ESCHER is an electro-mechanical robot measuring 1.7 m high but remains lightweight at 60 kg. Its efficient design permits untethered operation for extended periods. The robot uses a multi-spectral vision suite to create a virtual environment in a range of severe, harsh conditions. Virtual environment information is used in simulation to perform path and manipulation planning, while actual locomotion and manipulation is conducted mostly autonomously with low level control. The team is using the human robot interface software designed by TORC Robotics, Inc. and Virginia Tech to support the environment.
Involvement in Prior DARPA Challenges
Virginia Tech was previously involved in the DARPA Urban Challenge and placed 3rd competition. In addition, Virginia Tech was one of the top 10 finalists in the Multi-Autonomous Ground-robotic International Challenge 2010 (MAGIC2010).