Mine Safety and Health Administration
The ANDROS Wolverine Robot is specially adapted for coalmine rescue work and is the best robotic technology available for such missions, a U.S. expert says.
As hopes dim for 29 men trapped in a New Zealand coal mine, a U.S. robotics expert isn't surprised that an army bomb-disposal robot short-circuited today when it hit water just 1,800 feet into the Pike River mine.
''The environment is tough -- dark, wet, cold -- so even on a level floor that would be easy for a person to walk on, a 'regular' robot can quickly short out, get its sensor covered in muck, mechanically seize up, or the operator makes a mistake," Robin Murphy from Texas A&M University's computer science department told The Sydney Morning Herald.
News reports indicate that the robot has since been restarted and traveled another 1,640 feet, and a second bomb-disposal robot is also on the way into the mine. But experts are not optimistic about a successful rescue, given the fact that they have had no contact with the trapped men for four days.
Murphy told the Herald that using the bomb-disposal robots is "worth a shot" in such rescue efforts, but noted that a U.S. robot specially adapted for coal-mine rescue work stands the best chance of navigating the New Zealand mine's harsh environment.
The robot, called the ANDROS Wolverine Robot and nicknamed V2, is propelled by explosion-proof motors that drive rubber tracks similar to those of a military tank, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
The robot was used during the Sago Mine disaster in 2006. It's approximately 50 inches tall, weighs 1,200 pounds, and is equipped with navigation and surveillance cameras, lighting, atmospheric detectors, night vision capability, two-way voice communication and a manipulator arm.
In the future, next-generation sensor technology will help robots navigate through mines as they go on search-and-rescue missions.
In the Sago accident, "they sent people underground, not the robot, and the people walked right by dead and dying miners," Sean Dessureault, an associate professor in the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering at the University of Arizona, told TechNewsDaily. "You can have machines with amazing sensors on it looking for people."
Check out the stories below for more information about mining technology, disasters and rescues:
- Tech that will save the trapped Chilean miners
- Lessons for NASA from Chile rescue
- Utah mine collapse caused seismic waves
- World's largest truck goes robotic
- Mine safety agency OKs wireless tracker
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).