Graduate Course to Develop Mobile Robot to Map Hazardous Abandoned Mines


Graduate students taking “Mobile Robot Development” this fall will draw on unique mapping, planning and mobility technologies to prototype a robot capable of exploring and mapping abandoned mines.

Mines are vulnerable to flooding and accidents because complete, accurate maps for many of them do not exist. That fact struck home in Pennsylvania last month, when the Quecreek Mine flooded and nine miners were trapped.

Flooding, roof fall, rotted timbers and environmental factors make old mines unsafe for people, but they offer an excellent opportunity to use robots, said William L. “Red” Whittaker, the Fredkin Research Professor in the Robotics Institute and a veteran developer of mobile robots for hazardous environments.

“Mine subsidence is a big issue in Pennsylvania and nationally. We believe this kind of prototype robot has enormous potential in helping many organizations understand what’s beneath the ground we stand on. We’ve been successfully creating technologies for exploring hazardous environments for years now. Accidents like Quecreek are compelling motivation for a safe, robotic solution to mapping mines,” said Whittaker.

Reclamation and conservation groups in Pennsylvania say correcting the state’s problems could cost at least $15 billion.

“The robot could help us find out about problems and develop an approach to its solution. This is a national priority,” Whittaker said.

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