Hawaii engineers design disaster relief robot boat


HONOLULU — University of Hawaii engineers have developed a robotic boat designed to explore disaster zones before rescuers and other emergency personnel.

It has the ability to detect chemical leaks and let response crews know what to expect when they venture into a harbor or port. It also feeds video and photos.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the boat uses sonar and other technologies to map ports and harbors, which may help after tsunami or other catastrophes.

“This is the robot that goes in before the people, to keep the people safe,” said Margo Edwards, senior research scientist with the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

The 160-pound vessel — called an Unmanned Port Security Vessel — is 6 feet long and more than 4 feet wide so it can be quickly deployed in an emergency, said Brian Bingham, a mechanical engineering professor who developed the robotic vessel with a team of UH students.

The Coast Guard first approached the university about creating such a craft more than three years ago, said Edwards.

UH officials have partnered with Battelle, a Columbus, Ohio-based nonprofit research and development firm, to market the robotic boat beyond the university.

Unmanned water vessels are nothing new and they’re frequently used by the U.S. military, but this new model is unique in that it focuses specifically on ports and harbors, said Haskell Jac Fought, a Battelle representative who attended a demonstration of the boat in Honolulu Harbor on Wednesday.

Battelle aims to manufacture dozens or even hundreds of the robotic boats.