Mapua Robotics Team Builds World-Class Bomb-Disposal Robot

Some good news, for a change.

The Mapua Institute of Technology Robotics Team, headed by the former Dean of the School of Mechanical Engineering, John Judilla, has designed and built a bomb-disposal robot which recently won the top prize (gold) in the First World Cup of Computer-Implemented Inventions in Shanghai, China.

Named MAC for Mechanical Anti-terrorist Concept, it was commissioned by the Makati police, with the assistance of various helpful individuals and private corporations, and which so impressed the PNP that they want to order a few more. The design concept and fabrication was made entirely by Mr. Judilla and company, composed of a few dedicated faculty and volunteer students. They worked with limited resources and fairly rudimentary tools, as far global-standard robotics laboratories go, but came up with a remarkably versatile prototype which can get the job done.

Which is what makes their achievement all the more amazing. All the robot parts were off-the-shelf, not from fancy high-tech suppliers abroad (which they couldn’t afford anyway), but from good ol’ Raon Street in Quiapo. What could not be bought in Raon was fabricated at the Mapua Intramuros, Manila campus by an inter-disciplinary group of students from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering and such. Just a lot of ingenuity and elbow grease.

As reported in the Inquirer:

The machine follows the same concept as roving explosives disposal devices used by the US police. It is barely two feet in height and three feet in length. Four wheels move it around and it is tethered to an umbilical cable connecting it to a central control mechanism.

And although MAC may be fairly basic as far as cutting-edge robotics goes, it’s easily operated, even by non-techies, and can be cheaply maintained. Facile functionality and sustainability are obvious key considerations in any technology to be introduced to a third-world country like ours. Mr. Judilla claims he can make each MAC for under P150,000 (around US$ 3,000), a bargain as far as robots go.

Specially in this case, where the mission is to save lives. No small thing, as the Makati police have lost two of its heroic bomb-disposal experts in recent years while doing their jobs. MAC can take on some of the dangers.

There’s a lot of room for improvement, of course. The tires, for one, will be replaced with caterpillar tracks for increased maneuverability. The present cables will be supplanted by wireless controls, to allow it to go longer distances and even underwater. There’s no end to the possibilities for upgrading the MAC.

It’s heartening to know that, without most of us being aware of it, we’re well into the third stage of personal robotics development which is “mobile, PC-based robots, devices that will likely have touch screens, speakers and microphones, enabling two-way communications, proximity sensors and the like, allowing for social displays, for applications like security or telepresence“, according to PC magazine.

If we could only get the national government to support projects like these instead of public funds being siphoned off to corruption-wracked programs like the fertilizer-fund scam.

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