Soldiers and first responders may soon have a better way to evaluate the interior of dangerous structures, thanks to a joint project between Missouri University of Science and Technology and the University of Missouri-Columbia.


Soldiers and first responders may soon have a better way to evaluate the interior of dangerous structures, thanks to a joint project between Missouri University of Science and Technology and the University of Missouri-Columbia.

As part of the project, which began in 2008, students at Missouri S&T have built a remote-controlled robot that is equipped with an infrared camera and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology. Like radar, LIDAR sends out signals, in this case millions of laser points, to bounce off objects and provide feedback. The LIDAR-equipped robot then wirelessly relays detailed images to a laptop computer.

Maerz and Dr. Ye Duan, an associate professor of computer science at MU, are the primary investigators on the research project, which was funded at a total cost of $400,000 by the Leonard Wood Institute.

Maerz and his students have used their prototype to map the inside of houses, businesses, Missouri S&T buildings, chambers in S&T’s Experimental Mine and cave passages in the Mark Twain National Forest.

Maerz sends sample images to Duan in Columbia for advanced data analysis and 3-D reconstruction. The technology is capable of revealing detailed information regarding floorplans, for instance, but it can also “see” people and objects inside a space.

The technology is further capable of detecting structural damage like cracks in beams, which would allow engineers to make safety recommendations following natural disasters.

The student-built robot at S&T resembles the rovers NASA has sent to Mars. But the S&T prototype, which weighs approximately 200 pounds, only cost about $25,000 to assemble. Maerz envisions commercial models being smaller, lighter and more flexible.