Giant robot secures landslide slopes

Space technology helps save lives

Roboclimber in action © D'Appolonia / Roboclimber
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Securing landslide-prone slopes is life-threatening but can save lives. Now the disaster relief organizations have received huge-scale aid: one of the world's largest robots, a four-ton "Roboclimber" developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), has passed first tests as a "slope-safe" in Italy.

"It was amazing to see how easily this mighty robot managed to work even on very steep slopes and secure a rocky mountain slope, " explains Guglielmo Berlasso, head of the civil protection department of the Friuli Venezia region where the test took place. Place for the first field use of the Roboclimber was 25 km north of Udine located valley of Alta Val Torre in Friuli. In this area, heavy landslides have repeatedly occurred in the past with catastrophic consequences. An almost vertical 30-meter-high rock face was selected to load the robot to its limits.

The Roboclimber was attached directly to the wall and secured by two steel cables. Equipped with a special drill, the robot cuts holes up to 20 meters deep and with a diameter of up to 76 millimeters in every rock and incline. In Friuli, within minutes, the roboclimber drilled a hole more than ten meters deep into the massive rock wall and inserted stabilization rods into the drilled holes. He was controlled using a camera on board and a wireless remote control. According to the disaster relief officers, the speed with which the robot mounted one backup after the other was impressive and, in addition, far greater than all previous slope stabilization methods.

So far, steep slopes can only be secured with the help of elaborate scaffolding constructions and hand-drilled and barred holes. An extremely dangerous job for the workers on the rocks. "The benefits are huge, " explains Enzo Rizzi, coordinator of the Roboclimber project. "It only takes a couple of hours to install the Roboclimber, while building a typical scaffold can take days or even weeks in critical situations. But most important is the fact that we can use the Roboclimber to secure steep, rocky walls without risking the health and lives of people. We can do it faster, more efficiently and still a lot safer. "

The Roboclimber was built on the basis of technology and knowledge from the European space program. With a weight of 3, 800 kilograms and a footprint of two times two and a half meters in the Roboclimber one of the largest robots in the world - and yet very flexible and easily controllable. The control system on board the robot is based, among other things, on algorithms that are also used by ESA for the control of satellites in space. display

(ESA, 13.01.2005 - NPO)