Posted by: robotnews | April 3, 2006

Robovolc – A robot for volcano exploration

Pang Sze Yong U0204779

Pang Sze Yong U0204779

The Robovolc is a robot developed jointly by Università di CATANIA (ITALY), Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (ITALY), Institute de Physique du Globe de Paris (FRANCE), University of Leeds (U.K.), ROBOSOFT (FRANCE) and BAE Systems (U.K.).

The main objective of developing this robot is to reduce the risks volcanologists need to face in their study of volcanos. During the paroxismal phases of eruptions, the data that can be collected from volcano vents are of the greatest interest and use to scientific understanding of volcanic activity. Unfortunately it is also the most dangerous period as well. There have been cases of volcanologists who have died or suffered serious personal injuries while trying to collect these data.

The challenges faced in the project is to coordinate the various partners and foster cooperation. Due to the multi-disciplinary nature of this project, expertise from different areas are brought together, such as volcanologists, software, communications and robotic platforms experts.

Over three years, the project was developed stage by stage with milestones and objectives to ensure that progress was on time. Firstly, a common understanding between the needs of volcanologists and financial constrains on the project has to be established. The problem to be tackled is carefully defined and requirements also laid out.

The robot was to be based on a modular design and in the second year, the details of each subsystem were fleshed out and development work is started. An important result during this year is the decision on the method of locomotion. The robot was to be a wheeled vehicle with a highly adaptive chassis.

In the third year, integration plans were drawn and continuously updated. The various subsystems were brought together one by one for integration and testing. Firstly, the wheeled platform was constructed. It is integrated with the motion control board and wireless radio link modules. Next, the construction of the SCARA manipulator and gripper was completed. The first version of the software to control navigation of the robot platform and manipulator was then released and tested. The required sensors were purchased and tested in integration. The sensors were also integrated with the manipulator and gripper to ensure compatability. Finally the complete robot is tested in laboratory before field trials.

The Robovolc was successful in the field and due to its modular nature, several new modular parts were swapped in to improve the robots functionality in different situations. Many photographs and videos of the robot in the field and laboratory are available on the website for viewing.

Reference :



  1. U0307654 Lian Weiwen, Mervyn

    This robot certainly looks like it has a practical use. While I was reading the article, I thought that the engineers would choose legs for the robot for its form of locomotion and I was surprised that they chose wheels. From the pictures and videos posted at their website, the wheels look like they are not fixed, making it appear suitable for rough terrain. However, it is still unable to climb up huge steps in the terrain. I wonder how much does this robot cost them. How much would it cost them to rebuild this robot if the volcano suddenly erupts and destroys the robot.

  2. U0205332 Yang Shaohua

    Both wheels and legs have their own advantages:wheels-robot is easy to control and setup,legs-robot could, if in good design, face more variour landforms. However it is much difficult to control, and is slow,which can be shown from the vedio during lecture time.

    I think the robot used in exploring MARS by NASA is good. it also using wheels to move, but the wheels are not fixed completely, the connected shaft is flexible depending on the diffenent another words,it combines the wheels and legs

  3. U0205109 Wu Jinjia

    The part that interest me most about the robot is the mechanical platfrom design. It builts on a simple idea yet applicable to many areas. This high degree of freedom type of wheel is indeed a very smart idea for vehicles to travel on uneven surfaces apart for volcano exploration.

    As what Mervyn mentioned, if a volcano was to suddenly erupt, rebuilding this robot will definitely not be cheap. However, it saves a human life, which is much more expensive. 😉 I guess to minimize the risk of volcanologists is their main objective.

  4. U025313R Chua Kin Chye
    I agree with Jinjia that definitely, human lives cannot be measured by dollars and senses. After all, robots, because humans deserve better! I believe that using wheels in the form of locomotion in this case is more practical since it would require much complex algorithms in order to enable the legs of the robot to adjust to the differnt rocky possibilities of the terrain. In cases of ledges where wheels will not be proceed, it is highly unlikely that legs can proceed in the same case

  5. u0204610 Andy Tan

    The robot looks rather bulky so I was wondering whats its survival rate when it encounters an erruption before it has finish gathering its data. Would it be more practical to add a hovering capability to it? =p

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