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POSTECH LabCumentary Professor Yu Son-cheol (IT Engineering)

Hazardous and Extreme
Environment Robotics Lab

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Hazardous and Extreme
Environment Robotics Lab

Professor Yu Son-cheol (IT Engineering)

From deep sea waters with visibility ranges barely exceeding one’s nose and forceful tidal currents, to volcanic zones where explosive lava could potentially flow at any time and disaster-affected areas where landslides or typhoons have wrought irreversible havoc – these all represent hazardous areas extremely dangerous for any human to access.

 

Led by Professor Yu, Son-cheol from the Department of Creative IT Engineering, POSTECH’s Hazardous and Extreme Environment Robotics Lab conducts research on engineering robots to travel such hazardous environments. The ultimate goal is to develop diversified field robots and operate  them under conditions from marine environments to in-air locations.

 

Cyclops, an autonomous underwater robot that was developed in the Lab in 2016, skillfully navigated the waters off Guryongpo in Pohang, Korea to create high-definition seafloor maps that illustrate the topographic features of the sea floor with a precision of 5 cm. This mission is especially significant because the transmission of radio waves is blocked underwater, and therefore, the marine environment renders the GPS (Global Positioning System) to be useless. Although humans have developed technologies to observe the surface of the moon by using high-tech telescopes, we have yet to fully identify what is in the water on our own planet. Cyclops can swim in all four directions with a precision that is within millimeters through strong tidal currents that might easily throw most objects off balance and successfully photograph every corner of the submarine world.

 

Nowadays, Cyclops is being further adapted to hazardous environments by being utilized with AI (Artificial Intelligence) and modular robots. Cyclops sends ultrasonic waves into the surrounding areas to identify the geographic features and leverages such data to pinpoint its own location. Because the accuracy of these ultrasonic waves alone is incomplete, the sensory of Cyclops is complemented by AI which can sample features of the surrounding environments to build high-precision maps. ‘Agent Vehicle’ is a robot which is being developed to be mounted on Cyclops. The ‘agent vehicle’ is mounted on Cyclops and safely transported into a deep sea. When Cyclops observes an interesting object during an exploration, Cyclops can deploy this small robot and the robot will swim towards the object and pick it up with a gripper.

 

The development of robots for hazardous environments is broadening its scope from submarine exploration to floating, landing and even flying. The fin-propelled robot, which is currently under development at the Lab, mimics the movements of aquatic creatures. This fin-propelled robot is able to use its fins to swim underwater and submerge to sea surface, and after approaching close enough to the land it can roll the fins to act like wheels to propel itself forward on the ground. Drone robots are also being developed to explore environments where humans are hard to reach.

 

Hazardous environment robotics present one of the best strategies to develop engineering robots that can be readily deployed in the field. Robotic scientists often say that it takes a hundred years for a robot to travel outside of a lab. This indicates the huge difference between operating robots in a controlled lab and operating them in complicated real-life situations. Each and every researcher at the Hazardous and Extreme Environment Robotics Lab set a goal to create their own engineering robots to achieve their distinctive research interests. The Lab continues with its journey to rapidly overcome the ‘100-year gap’ and unveil robots that successfully perform in the field.

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