Our family spent Thanksgiving with Mrs ERJ's side of the family. The in-laws find themselves together in back-eddies as "the family" relives summers at Lake Bellaire, Bradley falling through the ice of the Shiawassee River etc.
I got into a conversation with Mark and Luke. Luke is a junior in a rural high school in southwest Michigan. Mark is Luke's dad. Their current passion is Luke's Robotics Club. The club competes.
I was intrigued
One of the projects they are incubating does not look like a typical, industrial robot.
The verbal, waving hands-in-the-air explanation is to have an RC all-terrain crawler climb a ladder onto storm-damaged roofs and map the roof on a half-meter-by-half-meter grid. A camera will inspect the roof. A high-frequency speaker might emit sound in the attic to be picked up by a microphone on the crawler.
Dodgy sections of the roof will be marked with a paintball gun mounted on the crawler. The insurance estimator can come back and count the number of paintball marks and locations on the roof. There are about 50 marks to the "square". That information can be used to write very precise repair estimates.
Estimating damaged roofs is not glamorous and sexy. It is boring and dangerous. Estimators can fall through the roof. Sometimes they fall off the roof. Human beings can damage roofs simply by walking across them. Humans get distracted and miss things.
The impressive thing about this project is that Mark and Luke (and the rest of the team) are working it from both ends. They started with a good problem (dangerous, boring, repetitive), figured out how to implement a solution using primarily pre-engineered component sets (ladders, RC crawlers, wireless video and cameras, paintball guns) and are stitching them together using software to create a robot.
The concept is extendable. It could be used to look for natural gas leaks, mapping magnetic anomalies or even sniffing for IEDs.
And the other upside is...
I think Luke has a jones for some new RC toys and paintball equipment. Just sayin'