60-Second Tech

Robot Rescuers Help Peace of Mine

Sandia National Labs demonstrates its improved mine rescue robot. Larry Greenemeier reports

Robots often serve as first responders during mine collapses. A robot can fit into tight spaces, it’s not slowed by noxious fumes and it's expendable if there's another cave-in.

Still, robots have had limited success doing mine rescue reconnaissance. It's not easy to remotely control a piece of machinery in hostile conditions 450 meters below ground. Rescuers got a stark lesson after Utah's Crandall Canyon mine collapse in 2007, when nine people died. Only one mobile robot made it down a borehole and onto the mine's floor. And it traveled only a couple of meters before becoming stuck in debris.

Sandia National Labs is trying to improve the technology with its new Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot, which it showcased at a robotic vehicle trade show this week in Washington.

The remote-control Gemini-Scout can navigate through about 45 centimeters of water. It has a thermal camera to locate survivors and a pan-and-tilt camera to record obstacles. The one-meter-long bot can also report the presence of gas and can even haul supplies—to help ensure that trapped miners have a better chance to see daylight again.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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