Public safety and military personnel don hazmat suits to prevent exposure to deadly chemicals, and can’t afford to think twice about whether those garments provide sufficient protection. The Midwest Research Institute, Kansas City, Mo., recently received a $26.3 contract from the U.S. Army to put protective gear to the test, using free-standing, two-legged robots that mimic human movement.
“The moving robot would be more effective in determining whether protective suits will wear out or create gaps that can expose a soldier to deadly chemicals,” says Robert Barton, director of the Institute’s engineering division. “In general, the closer you can get to realistic conditions, the better.” Robots will be outfitted with sensors, dressed in protective suits, and placed inside a special containment room filled with nerve gas or other toxins.
A key partner in the project is Boston Dynamics, Waltham, Mass., a company specializing in robotics and human simulation technology. One of the company’s products, BigDog, is a four-legged robot that walks on rough terrain, propelled by gasoline-powered hydraulics, stereo vision and an on-board set of sensors and controls. In addition to suit design and use simulations, the Institute’s moving mannequin will test suits made from new generation composite materials. For more about the project, visit the Institute’s Web site at www.mriresearch.org.