Locally-Designed Robot May Save Lives

An explosion in nuclear laboratory was the trigger for Iman Firmansyah, a physicist from Indonesian Institute of Sciences or LIPI, to try and create a small robot that would prevent such an incident from happening again.

“Explosions are often preceded by undetected changes in temperature”, he said at his office in Serpong, Tangerang, a city just outside of Jakarta.

“Had there been some device to report and warn of the temperature change in that laboratory, maybe immediate action could have been taken to avoid an explosion”.

Iman then constructed such a device, one that could continuously report temperature and streaming video.

“Plus, you can control its movement from anywhere via your laptop, not remote control”, said Iman, who holds a master degree in Physics from University of Indonesia.

In August, Iman’s “Web-based modular wireless robot” was ranked among the top 200 entrants to the imagine cup 2008, a technology competition for students from all over the world organized by Microsoft. Iman’s robot made it as far as the semifinal stage.

The small robot moves around on four wheels: two small wheels at the front and larger ones at the back. It is equipped with wireless access points, a digital compass and a web camera. It is made almost entirely of personal computer, or PC, parts.

Iman said that most robots make use of microcontroller, but this would not have enough energy for his robot to move fast.

“I wanted it to be accessible from anywhere, thus it needed a larger memory and controlled speed“, he said, adding that the only solution was to use a PC.

Iman said he used a PC processor, motherboard, memory and hard disk, added that old computer parts could be used to build his robot. He chooses a cheap basic PC costing a mere Rp. 500,000 ($42.50) to construct his robot. He added a battery to give the robot the power to move and used the open-source Linux Ubuntu as his computer operating system.

Once the “on’ button is pushed, the robot is ready to function according to its operator’s whishes.

The operator can control the robot from a laptop or computer anywhere on earth. All that is required is an internet browser and an internet protocol system that allows data packets to be transmitted to their intended destinations.

Once users are connected to the internet, their screen will show streaming video captured by the robot’s camera. Guided by the video, users can direct the robot to go left, right, forward, backward, or to stop.

“And if you want to know the temperature, just click the temperature check button”, he said.

The settings can be used to operate the device in a number of ways. For example, it can be set to send continuous reports at a time dictated by the users. The operator can also check the robot’s position at anytime, and see what is happening in its environment.

However, so far, the robot can only move on flat surface. “I want to further develop it and add more tools to it”, he said.

Iman has been invited to present his robot at the International Conference on Control, Automation, Robotic, and Vision, in Hanoi, Vietnam on Dec.17-20.

He plans to add application such as the ability to measure height. Iman hopes that his creation can be used to help people working in extreme conditions, such as in steel production.

Anita Rachman

Source : Jakarta Globe (6 December 2008)

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