“Just one mistake and the building could blow”, remarked one of the young men. In his hands he is holding a type of controller, similar to an Xbox or PlayStation, with which he is controlling a so-called Crawler; a UGV or “Unmanned Ground Vehicle”.
The Crawler in action
The young man concentrates vigilantly on his laptop screen, upon which a door handle can be seen. At this moment he has no idea what the crawler will find behind the door. He gently moves the control stick until the robot arm moves onto the screen. The robot’s hand moves up to the handle, pushes it down and carefully pulls the door open. Accompanied by the buzzing of the electric motor, the Crawler moves itself through the doorway into a dimly lit room with apparently endless rows of seats stretching in front of the robot’s camera. It slowly rolls through the dim twilight.
A black suitcase is lying ten meters away on the floor. The crawler heads straight for it. Three metres away. Something scurries by the camera lens. The camera quickly rotates to the left to meet a pair of eyes staring directly at the lens.
“Perfect! That went great!,” shouts a voice through the headset of the young man holding the controller. “Now we need to analyse this data.” The door to the room flies open and seven excited students come bustling out. The live test was a success. The huge challenge of the Crawler today: Pulling on and opening a door without direct visibility.
In 2009 Peter Leibl and Albert Seemueller, professors at the University of Applied Sciences Munich, started the project Crawler 2.0. Together with more than 80 master students in the field of mechatronics they are exploring methods and technologies which will help offering more protection to police officers and other task forces.
In extreme situations, UGVs can offer a good option for the secure removal of a potentially harmful device without endangering human lives. Up until now these devices have failed even the most simple of tasks such as climbing stairs or opening a door.
Prof. Leibl and Prof. Seemueller, together with their team of students, have come up with a creative solution to these tasks. With a minimal budget, this robot is further developed every year by these student-teams. Several of the device parts have therefore been designed and built by the students themselves. For example the cable guides, Raspberry-Pi-boxes or the integrated camera support were designed with CAD-software and 3D-printed.
Probably one of the most practical endeavours is the way the students have organized themselves as if in company departments. For instance, they have, in addition to the R&D teams, an organizations team, which handles the project and budget planning, purchasing, documentation, marketing, HR, etc.
The most important contact for the professors and their students is the Strategic Innovations Center of the Bavarian State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA). From there they receive requests for the Crawler and feedback about the current development work. The LKA would have an actual need of the Crawler as well. The commissioners would like to deploy it in terrorist situations as well in the threats of sharp shooters.
The Crawler is, however, not yet being manufactured. “At the forefront is the expansion and deepening of knowledge and the development of further understanding. The project should prepare students for complex assignments and work environment. The development of the project should thereby be a team effort. Ultimately, the project will be handled as a method of education, and therefore will not be developed by us to the point of mass-production-ready,” clarified Professor Leibl.
Regardless, electronics companies, such as PULS or Bosch Rexroth, show huge interest in the ambitious project and offer their support as sponsors.
For almost two years, a QS40.244 (24V, 40A) from PULS has reliably, efficiently, and securely powered the Crawler. With the end of the 2016 summer semester, the battery pack was able to be effectively developed to the point where the Crawler no longer needs a cable, another milestone, in order to make the machine more mobile.
As a technologically driven company, PULS supports these courageous research projects and puts its products and knowledge freely at the disposal of the young engineers.
PULS is curiously awaiting the next stage of development. With the Crawler gaining a considerable electronic outfit, including numerous sensors, a camera system, Wi-Fi functionality, a battery system, and industrial PC and several Raspberry-Pis, the question of ventilation and cooling is becoming ever more important. Furthermore, the Crawler needs to become thinner and have its weight reduced.
These are just two of the many improvements, which we will witness in the coming semesters.
Learn more details about the Crawler Project!
On the project website you will find useful information about the individual project teams and you can track the progress of the next development steps of the crawler.