The Korean Government will invest US$60 million to build robots for disaster rescue missions, GovInsider has learned.

The initiative called the “public safety robot project” will be launched this year and go on for five years, Professor Jun-Ho Oh, Director of Humanoid Robot Research Centre, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, told GovInsider.

The robots will deal with “complex, massive fires” such as those in chemical plants or explosions, he said, where it is too dangerous or difficult for humans to go in.

Professor Oh and his lab are planning to build two kinds of robots. One idea is for a small robot which can be dropped by a drone at the rescue site to search for people, he said.

Another will be a robot to lift heavy material like debris and punch holes through walls. The robot will have hydraulic arms, like those used in construction machines, to endure high pressure and weight.

Professor Oh built Korea’s first human-like robot called Hubo, and last year won the US Government’s DARPA challenge to build a semi-autonomous robot (pictured above) that could be used in Fukushima-like nuclear disasters. To win the challenge, the robot had to drive a car (see video below).

The biggest challenge for building fire rescue robots is anticipating all the scenarios that the robot would have to deal with, Professor Oh said. “At this point we know that fire resisting materials are important, and we have to be able to sense human lives. But there are so many potential problems, they have to be solved one by one.”

Image above by DARPA Robotics Challenge.