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BEAR robot roars to the rescue

The Army-funded humanoid can locate victims in a mine shaft, battlefield, toxic spill, or quake-damaged structure and carry them over long distances to safety.

Vecna Robotics

While unmanned air vehicles are putting pilots out of business, a new U.S. Army-funded robot could do the same for rescuers and stevedores.

The humanoid BEAR (Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot) can locate victims in a mine shaft, battlefield, toxic spill, or earthquake-damaged structure. And then it can lift them up and then carry them over long distances to safety, according to the manufacturer Vecna Robotics. And it does this without risking any more lives (PDF).

The challenge was to enhance search and rescue while reducing the time military, police, and emergency response personnel have to risk their lives each day. More than half of the Medals of Honor earned by medics are awarded posthumously, according to Vecna.

So far there are nine incarnations of BEAR--each a little more capable than its predecessor. Improvements to date include explosion- and fire-resistant treads; a ruggedized, high-speed, high-energy drive system; explosion- and fire-resistant battery cells; and enhanced dexterity.

The current prototype features a powerful upper body controlled by hydraulics that can lift 500 pounds, according to the developer. A "mobility platform" featuring two independent sets of tracked "legs" allows it to balance on the balls of its "ankles."

But don't lay those firefighters off just yet. Vecna is still working on the BEAR's ability to navigate through complex environments and to elevate the level of human-robot interaction.

The project is sponsored by the U.S. Army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, which is part of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command.