UC San Diego to test bioattack sensing robots

A platoon of robots will have sensors installed on them by engineers at UC San Diego to attempt to spot and predict the movement of smoke during a controlled experiment this summer that could eventually be used in aiding in the detection and evaluation of biological and chemical attacks.

The robots, which are approximately the size of dinner plates, are known as "Switchblades." The robots are part of a larger UCSD effort, in conjunction with other institutions, to develop autonomous robots to be used in homeland security and urban warfare.

"Ultimately, such a vehicle could be fitted with a variety of chem/rad/bio sensors, video, or the like," Thomas Bewley, the UCSD mechanical engineer and principal investigator who has overseen the conversion of the vehicle in the university's Coordinated Robotics Lab, told SignonSanDiego.com.

As part of the project, 12 Switchblades have been equipped with sensors to detect particulate from smoke.

"We'll have 12 robots running around all at the same time, measuring the smoke, its concentration and the wind velocity," Nick Morozovsky, one of Bewley's doctoral students, told SignonSanDiego.com. "The data will be sent to a supercomputer and be used to predict where the plume will expand to.

"The robots will receive a command to go to a certain location, but they'll plan out their path so that they can avoid collisions. They're autonomous."

The project has been funded in part by National Instruments and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.