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Kinect-powered robot searches, rescues, looks adorable

This search and rescue robot is powered by Microsoft's Xbox 360 Kinect motion sensor, and is built to recce hazardous environments that would be unsafe for human workers.

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Luke Westaway

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A rare treat for robophiles -- this search and rescue robot is built to aid emergency workers in post-earthquake environments, and is powered by Microsoft's Xbox 360 Kinect motion sensor.

The robot was built by students at Warwick University, working under the banner WMR -- Warwick Mobile Robotics. Found lurking at the Gadget Show Live in Birmingham, it makes us feel bad for spending our uni years guzzling Super Noodles and playing World of Warcraft.

The robot is controlled remotely, and is designed to be sent into rescue situations that would be too dangerous for human emergency workers. Because it can sense depth, the Kinect sensor bar enables the robot to garner a three-dimensional picture of its surroundings, so it can find its way around more accurately. Robust caterpillar treads on either side mean it's adept at clambering over heaps of rubble and other trying terrain.

The robot doesn't have any limbs, so it's not capable of actually pulling people from piles of wreckage, but it is a valuable recon tool. As well as being affordable, the Kinect sensor bar can store and relay a 3D picture of the robot's surroundings, to help plan future rescue efforts.

Another project the WMR is working on is an aerial drone that can be used to inspect buildings, and generally hover about in spaces where pudgy humans would struggle to reach.

The search and rescue robot isn't the first time Kinect's been put to humanitarian use -- doctors have been using Microsoft's depth-sensing gaming accessory in surgery, to manipulate medical imaging.

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Microsoft's Kinect sensor bar sits up top.
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This second sensor scans the environment, but only on a single horizontal plane.
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Ruggedy-lookin' treads mean this machine is capable in tricky terrain.
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We can't say for certain the design was influenced by Short Circuit, but we have our suspicions.
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Kinect is a cheap alternative to expensive laser tech.
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Plus it looks like a face! A bonus for any robot.
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This is another robot built by the same team -- a flying drone.

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