Researchers at the University of Warwick have developed a robot that explores collapsed buildings looking for survivors – and it’s powered by Microsoft’s Kinect.

The earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand this past Tuesday has claimed at least 75 lives so far, and rescuers are still searching for more than 200 people missing under the rubble. For the rescuers, it’s a dangerous operation – collapsed buildings are hazardous, and the remnants could collapse further at any moment, leaving the rescuers to need a rescue of their own.

The solution, of course, is to use specially-developed robots that can enter unstable buildings to search for surviving life. These robots, however, can cost rescue groups multiple thousands of dollars – but a team at the University of Warwick has worked out a far less prohibitively expensive solution: Microsoft’s Kinect.

Warwick Mobile Robotics’ (WMR) rescue robots all kind of look like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, but thanks to the Kinect camera and specialized software, they can accurately recreate and model their surroundings, and feed this information to rescuers waiting outside. “The whole idea is to protect the lives of the rescuers,” explained mechanical engineer Peter Crook. What you’d have is a team of maybe two people – it doesn’t take a lot of manpower – and they’d set up outside. From a safe distance they’d drive the robot in and then use that robot to look for victims.”

The robot can’t actually bring the survivors out on its own – old-fashioned humans will have to take care of that part – but knowing where the survivors are before they enter the building means that rescuers can get in and get out much faster than they would have been able to normally. This means that the rescuers’ lives are less at risk, and that survivors can be more easily located before their time runs out.

We’ve already seen how Microsoft’s Kinect can be hacked to do incredible things with software, but now it’s saving lives. What more could a video game peripheral ask for?

(BBC, via VG247)

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