The briefcase, a potpourri of electronic items included a gadget which had an uncanny resemblance to PackBot, a military robot used by American ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In reality, it was a harmless device designed to sneak into hard-to-reach air-conditioning ducts and clean them. An amused security team at the airport let him off but not before a thorough (verbal) demonstration of how the device works.
“They couldn’t believe that the robot was an Indian creation,” recalls Mr Azad who later christened the contraption DuctBot. After countless revisions, the 2.5kg unit now resembles a miniature Buick Bug from 1910. Mr Azad chose to mount the DuctBot on wheels rather than mechanical limbs because they offer more energy-efficient locomotion and are easier to steer. This is done using a wireless Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2) joystick over the 2.45GHz radio-frequency band used in remote-controlled toys. The PS2 joystick is much easier to use than industrial devices, which are also five times more expensive. (The robot also responds to Nintendo Wii’s motion-control interface, but the Wii has not yet found any takers. “People here find it funny to move their arms and legs to drive the robot,” explains Mr Azad.)
The robot is designed to snake through dark, narrow air conditioning ducts and spot obstacles along the way. A pair of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) fitted in the front and at the back light up the grubby scenery so it can be captured by a camera lens. The images are transmitted to a monitor or a digital video recorder. On noticing an obtrusion the controller sets in motion a soft-bristled brush, or blows compressed air through tentacles attached to it. The robot can flush out many sacks of dirt, as well as dead pigeons, rodents and insects.
Maintaining healthy indoor air quality and monitoring carbon-dioxide levels in buildings with central air conditioning is a challenge. It is critical in places where clean air can mean a difference between life and death, such as hospitals