A four-legged ‘Robodog’ is patrolling the Large Hadron Collider

Traversing the dark underground areas of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland, is not for the faint of heart. The world's most powerful particle accelerator violently crushes protons and other subatomic particles at close to the speed of light, which can emit radiation at levels potentially harmful to humans. As if that weren't enough, long stretches of compact, cluttered areas and uneven surfaces throughout the facility make a stable position necessary.

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) are turning to four-legged, dog-inspired robots to solve this problem. This week, CERN presented its recently developed system CERN quadbot robot which they say successfully completed its first radiation study in CERN's North Zone, the facility's largest experimental area. For the future, CERN plans to take its “Robodog” to other experimental caves to analyze areas and look for dangers.

Why does CERT need a robot dog?

The dangerous, sometimes cramped confines of the LHC experiment caverns pose challenges for both human workers and older robot models. Temporary radiation levels and other environmental hazards such as fires and potential water leaks may make some areas temporarily inaccessible to humans. Other old CERT robots, while adept at using powerful robotic arms to carry heavy objects from a distance, has difficulty traversing uneven ground. Likewise, stairs are a failure for these mostly wheeled and tracked robots.

This is where CERT’s robot dog comes in. The CERTquadbot's four dog-shaped legs allow it to move up and down and side to side, while adapting to slight changes in the ground surface. Video of the robot at work shows it ticking its four metal legs up and down as it navigates across what appears to be a sidewalk and metal mesh floor, while using onboard sensors to scan its surroundings . A human operator can be seen nearby directing the robot using a controller. For an added touch of style, the robot can also briefly stand on its two hind legs. The Robodog had to use all its maneuverability during its recent test in the North Zone, which would have been filled with obstacles.

“There are large bundles of cables and pipes on the ground that slide and move, making them impassable for wheeled robots and difficult even for humans,” said Chris McGreavy, robotics control, electronics and mechatronics engineer at the CERN, in a press release. statement.

Fortunately for CERN scientists, Robodog rose to the occasion. And unlike other living dogs, this one didn't need a tasty treat to be rewarded.

“There were no problems: the robot was completely stable throughout the inspection,” added McGreavy.

Now that the test is successful, CERN says it is improving the robot and preparing it and its successors for deployment in experimental caves, including the ALICE detector which is used to study quark-gluon plasma. These areas often feature stairs and other complex surfaces that would hamper CERN's other, less maneuverable robots. Once inside, the robot dogs will monitor the area for any hazards such as fire or water leaks or respond quickly to alarms.

CERN directed PopSci to this blog post when we asked for more details regarding the robot.

Dogs Inspired by Dogs Go Where Humans Can't

Four-legged quadruped robots have gained popularity in many industries in recent years due to their ability to nimbly access areas that are too cumbersome or dangerous for humans and larger robots. Boston Dynamics' “Spot”, probably the most famous quadruped robot currently on the market, was used to inspect dangerous offshore oil drilling sites, explore old abandoned mining facilitiesand even monitor a major sports arena in Atlanta, Georgia. More controversially, law enforcement officials New York City and at southern border of the United States have also turned to these quadruped-style robots to explore areas otherwise deemed too dangerous for humans.

However, CERN does not expect its new Robodog to completely eliminate the need for other models in its robot family. Instead, the different robots will work together in tandem, using their respective strengths to fill in the gaps with the ultimate goal of hopefully speeding up the process of scientific discovery.

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