Back in 2012, an organization known as Clearpath Robotics decided to give away a customized Husky UGV to a worthy cause - to help humans avoid blowing themselves up. Clearpath donated its robot to the University of Coimbra in Portugal, which transformed the little robot into a mobile, autonomous land mine detector.Some of you are probably a little confused at this point - aren't land-mines a rather archaic piece of weaponry?
No, not really. They actually see a great deal of use even to this day; as a result of modern-day conflicts as well as past wars, there exists around 110,000,000 land-mines in the world right now, all of them active. The worst part is, there's really no indication of where many of these mines may be; it's frighteningly easy as a result for a person, small child, or animal to blunder into one and, well...
You can figure out what happens next.
Humans and animals are clearing out mines at a rate of around 100,000 a year (most of them by blowing themselves up). That's nowhere near enough; if we don't start taking action soon, they won't be entirely cleared out for somewhere around a thousand years. In that time, how many lives do you expect they'll take (or ruin)?
That's why the team at Coimbra decided to upgrade the Husky into a land-mine detector. Tracking down and disarming mines is dangerous work, after all; you're likely as not going to end up as a victim of one with even a single misstep. A legion of robots - all equipped with GPS sensors and stereo vision - is a much safer alternative; if one of them ends up in pieces, you just need to build a new one.
Of course, detecting the mines is only half the work. The Husky still isn't outfitted with the ability to disarm them. That's probably the next step in making the Husky ready for real-world deployment; somehow, having the robot disarm the mines in the traditional fashion (see above) seems a little impractical.
The researchers plan to present additional results involving the robot at ICRA 2014, which will take place in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center from May 31 to June 5, 2014.