As each of the 33 Chilean miners emerged from 69 days of subterranean captivity to worldwide celebration, a team of Sandia engineers on the other side of the equator was wrapping up its own, much quieter, mine rescue operation. Sandia engineers were busy putting the finishing touches on a robot that would alleviate some of the unknowns of mine rescues and arm rescuers with the most valuable tool: information.
Sandia's Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot is equipped to handle any number of obstacles, including rubble piles and flooded rooms, to help rescuers reach trapped miners safely and efficiently. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
In any mining disaster, rescuers who move in before the dust settles face unknown obstacles and conditions that can be just as harrowing and dangerous as what faced the miners. They must overcome poisonous gases, flooded tunnels, explosive vapors, and unstable walls and roofs, all of which work against teams who are up against a ticking clock.
To combat those deadly challenges and help rescue efforts move faster, Sandia robotics engineers have designed the Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot. Able to navigate through 18 inches of water and crawl over boulders and rubble piles, the robot is able to go into dangerous situations ahead of rescuers to evaluate precarious environments and determine how operations should proceed.
“We have designed this robot to go in ahead of its handlers, to assess the situation and potential hazards, and allow operations to move more quickly,” says project manager Jon Salton (6533). “The robot is guided by remote control and is equipped with gas sensors, an infrared camera to locate survivors, and another pan-and-tilt camera mounted several feet up to see the obstacles we’re facing.”
In addition to giving rescuers an idea of what they’re headed into, the robotic scout can provide some relief to trapped miners. Less than four feet long and two feet tall, Gemini-Scout is nimble enough to navigate around tight corners and over safety hatches a foot high. It is equipped with two-way communication radios and can bring provisions such as food, air packs, and medicine to those trapped underground. Additionally, Gemini-Scout can be configured to potentially drag survivors to safety.
A number of challenges faced designers. They had to keep in mind the hazards typically found in mines. Methane and other gases could ignite if exposed to sparks, so the electronics are housed in casings designed to withstand an explosion. “Such measures would prevent a spark from causing further destruction. While it might harm the robot, it wouldn’t create another dangerous situation for the miners or rescuers,” Jon says.
And to ensure functionality in flooded tunnels, Gemini-Scout’s controls and equipment are waterproof. “When we were designing a robot that could provide this level of assistance, we had to be aware of the pressures and gases that are often found in that environment,” says Clint Hobart (6532), who was responsible for the mechanical design and system integration. “So we had to make sure the strength of materials matched what our goals were, and we had to keep everything lightweight enough so it could navigate easily.”
In addition, engineers had to make sure that the design was user-friendly enough to be intuitive to new operators who were trying to learn the system quickly. To overcome that challenge, they used an Xbox 360 game controller to direct Gemini-Scout, and the screen feels much like a video game. “We focused a lot on usability and copied a lot of gamer interfaces so that users can pick it up pretty quickly,” says Justin Garretson (6532), the lead software developer and an avid gamer.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provided funding for the efforts, which have been underway for about three years. If all goes well, the Gemini-Scout could be in full production by the end of next year. The team is in the final stages of licensing Gemini-Scout to a commercial robotics company, but for now, the Mine Safety and Health Administration will be the primary customer.
“We anticipate that this technology is broad enough to be appealing to other first responders, such as police, firefighters, and medical personnel,” Jon says. “Gemini-Scout could easily be fitted to handle earthquake and fire scenarios, and we think this could provide real relief in currently inaccessible situations.” -- Stephanie Hobby
Sandia has won technology transfer awards for a water disruptor now diffusing improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan; mobile, fuel-cell-powered lighting used at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards; and a national institute that teaches students cutting-edge nanoengineering.
The winners of the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) Mid-Continent Regional Awards were honored recently in Jackson Hole, Wyo. They include the Sandia team that invented the water disruptor and licensed the technology to Albuquerque-based TEAM Technologies Inc.; a Sandia-led partnership that developed the fuel-cell lighting system; and a collaboration that created the National Institute for Nano Engineering (NINE) hosted at the Labs.
LUXIM AND LUMENWORKS manufacture and design the plasma lighting sources and reflectors used in the fuel-cell-powered mobile lighting system spearheaded by Sandia. The lighting system won a technology transfer award. (Photo courtesy Stray Light Optical Technologies)
“These exceptional projects highlight Sandia’s efforts to transfer its technologies outside the laboratory, whether to private companies to create jobs, to provide technical solutions where they’re needed, or through educating our college students and readying them for future science or engineering careers,” says Jackie Kerby Moore, manager of Technology & Economic Development Dept. 1933.
The three winners were selected from an FLC region that is home to more than 100 federal laboratories in 14 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
Sandia’s water disruptor, which shoots a blade of water capable of penetrating steel to safely diffuse improvised explosive devices — IEDs — won an Excellence in Technology Transfer Award after the technology was licensed to TEAM, a small minority-owned business.
The company has marketed the device as the Stingray, and has sent about 7,000 water disruptors to Afghanistan and military training sites since July.
The collaboration between TEAM, a company of 75 employees located in the Sandia Science & Technology Park, and Sandia enabled the water disruptors to be delivered seven months after the licensing agreement was signed.
TEAM also plans to sell the water disruptor to law enforcement and airport security agencies.
A 14-partner team of technology holders, manufacturers, and end users led by Sandia won a Notable Technology Development Award for a Fuel Cell Mobile Light. Sandia, Boeing Co., the California Department of Transportation, Altergy Systems, Stray Light Optical Technologies, Multiquip Inc., and other partners developed the system as a clean, efficient alternative to traditional technologies powered by diesel fuel generators.
In March, the lighting system lit the construction of the famed red carpet area and an entrance to the red carpet used by the international press corps and production personnel and powered a security portal at the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood.
Using funding from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Boeing, the project is constructing six “near-commercial” units that will be subjected to rigorous environmental and performance testing in order to finalize the commercial design. The team hopes to offer the unit for sale by late this year or early next year.
Finally, NINE received the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Award for its public-private partnership of government, industry, and universities that brings college students and faculty to its facility to focus on developing nanoengineering solutions to national problems.
NINE was established as a national innovation hub for nanoengineering three years ago, and is the only such program in the US. It provides nanoengineering solutions to meet Sandia’s mission and real-life, large-scale nanoengineering research opportunities for students and faculty. The institute has a collaborative environment that matches students with Sandia and industry mentors and motivates top undergraduates to obtain advanced degrees.
This year, for the first time, Sandia and its industrial and university partners together selected the technical projects that will receive more than $9 million in research and development funding and will be NINE’s focus for several years. The projects will provide research opportunities for 36 graduate students. -- Heather Clark
Sandia has received White House recognition as one of eight recipients of the 2010 GreenGov Presidential Awards. The awards honor federal agencies and employees who work to reduce greenhouse gas pollution; meet a number of energy, water, and waste reduction targets; and leverage federal purchasing power to promote environmentally responsible products and techniques.
More than 300 nominations were submitted for the eight awards; Sandia earned the Green Innovation Award for developing and implementing photovoltaic (PV) powered carts at a ceremony on Oct. 7.
“It is a primary mission of Sandia Labs to seek out alternative energy sources, and I am thrilled that this great team is being honored with the 2010 GreenGov Presidential Award for Innovation for its outstanding work,” says Div 4000 VP Michael Hazen, who heads up infrastructure operations at Sandia. “It is an honor and a privilege to accompany key members of the team and family members to the White House for this ceremony as they are recognized for leading by example by demonstrating environmental and energy excellence, and we look forward to discovering new ways to save energy and reduce costs.”
Sandia’s Facilities Energy Management team and Fleet Services organization designed the experimental, solar-powered carts in 2009 with the goals of creating a more energy-efficient campus, reducing grid-tied energy use, increasing renewable-energy use, and implementing solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions while determining whether a PV-driven concept could be developed that did not have a lifelong payback period. The program was completed within two months of funding and has been in operation for more than a year.
The modified Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) carts take advantage of the region’s abundant sunlight by collecting solar energy in rooftop panels to charge the batteries, but can bypass the PV system to be plugged in on cloudy days when needed. Batteries are equipped with an automatic shutoff to prevent overcharging, thereby extending their lifespan.
Traditional electric charging stations cost about $10,000 to install and require substantial site modifications and construction. PV-powered GEM carts would reduce the number of needed charging stations, resulting in fewer repairs and decreased maintenance costs. Converting to solar-powered carts also translates to significant environmental savings. Because no power is purchased for the PV-powered cart, no coal is burned and no carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.
Sandia’s carts use an off-the-shelf PV mounting kit, and modifications can be made in about 30 days. The GEM cart pilot project has received so much positive feedback that Sandia Fleet Services is working to expand the program and to improve the original design concept on a different platform with five new Club Car Low-Speed Vehicles (LSVs) carts at a reduced cost.
Project team members include Matthew Brito (4821), Erika Barraza (4821), Mark Crawford (10260), Diana Goold (10265), Jennifer Keese (former intern in 4821), Israel Martinez (4821), Richard Otero (10265), and Darcy Fischer (10265).
The GreenGov program builds on a 15-year history of presidential awards for agency environmental achievement. The GreenGov awards honor exceptional federal civilian and military personnel, agency teams, agency projects, and facilities and agency programs that exemplify the federal government’s charge to lead by example. Other GreenGov awards were offered in the following categories: Lean, Clean and Green, Sustainability Hero, Good Neighbor, Green Dream Team, and Building the Future. - Stephanie Hobby