In an emer­gency, first respon­ders need to be able to com­mu­ni­cate. But with infra­struc­ture dam­aged by a dis­aster, the cel­lular and wire­less net­works they depend on may be dam­aged or destroyed, crip­pling the use of high-​​tech tools that help find vic­tims or estab­lish a sense of order.

Enter Dan Lan­ders and Glen Chi­ac­chieri, both of whom grad­u­ated from North­eastern in May with bachelor’s degrees in elec­trical engi­neering. For their senior cap­stone project, they worked with a team to develop a rugged robot equipped with the tools to estab­lish a wire­less net­work and a pair of repeaters that can expand the signal even further.

You have to be able to talk to each other,” Chi­ac­chieri said. “You have to be able to communicate.”

The cap­stone team included Lan­ders, Chi­ac­chieri, Barry Son, Sen­thuran Sel­vanayagam, Hector Palo­mares, Ryan Moynihan, Mauro Berti and Imran Ahmed. Their fac­ulty adviser was Masoud Salehi, asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engineering.

Though most of the team was well versed in elec­trical engi­neering con­cepts, the project required them to step out­side of their com­fort zone.

We had to learn all the mechan­ical engi­neering and all the design in less than nine months,” said Lan­ders, who is now enrolled in the Col­lege of Engi­neering’s grad­uate program.

The robot is nick­named Bobak in honor of mohawked NASA engi­neer Bobak Fer­dowski, who gained Internet fame last month when the Curiosity rover landed on Mars.

Bobak is made pre­dom­i­nately of alu­minum; weighs between 150 and 200 pounds; and mea­sures 40 inches long, 16 inches tall and 28 inches wide — narrow enough to fit through a stan­dard door and com­pact enough to fit in the back of an average sedan. Equipped with a webcam, it runs on a basic net­book with a custom web inter­face and stan­dard home wire­less routers mod­i­fied with long-​​range antennas.

Nearly any type of com­puter can con­trol it, from smart­phone to tablet to laptop. The driver directs the robot, which runs on an oper­ating system called NodeJS, and views the robot’s envi­ron­ment through the webcam. If the robot loses net­work con­nec­tivity, it drives in reverse until it regains its connection.

Most of the robot was built at the Somerville, Mass.-based Artisan’s Asylum, a mas­sive col­lab­o­ra­tive work­space where Lan­ders and Chi­ac­chieri honed their skills. With more than 40,000 square feet of ware­house space, Artisan’s Asylum is among the largest “hack­er­spaces” throughout the world.

There is some­thing like $750,000 worth of tools here, but the most valu­able resource is the people,” Lan­ders said. “No matter what you need to do, odds are there’s someone here who’s an expert at it.”

Lan­ders and Chi­ac­chieri have con­tinued to improve their device and are plan­ning to develop a second-​​generation robot. The second iter­a­tion of Bobak, they said, will be larger, have a greater capacity for net­work delivery and double as a remote power station.

In addi­tion to devel­oping the robot as a prac­tical tool for the field, the student-​​researchers hope to use Bobak to show young people that engi­neering can be a fun, chal­lenging and rewarding career choice.

They noted that middle-​​school stu­dents have been drawn to Bobak during test ses­sions and hacker events, adding that they have used the shiny, metallic robot to talk about engi­neering from a broader per­spec­tive. They’ve also worked with freshmen engi­neering stu­dents, who have vis­ited the duo’s work­space at Artisan’s Asylum to get expo­sure to the “hacker” and “maker” ele­ments of engi­neering the space celebrates.

There’s always more we can do with this,” Lan­ders said. “And we’re excited to see where we go next.”