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Robot Snake Could Aid Search and Rescue Operations

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the slither-and-save dept.

Robotics 66

mikejuk writes "The Carnegie Mellon University Biorobotics Lab demonstrates how the snakelike robots can aid search and rescue operations in collapsed buildings. The video appeared more or less at the same time as the current real disaster in Dhaka, Bangladesh where an 8-storey building collapsed, trapping some three thousand people. Bangladesh rescue teams, helped by members of the community, have so far worked with small tools and their bare hands to bring out survivors. Having a snake robot that could provide pictures from within the building would lead to speedier and more effective rescue operations."

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Or proper construction. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43576999)

The money spent on the rescue bots could be used to properly construct at least ten times as many buildings.

Re:Or proper construction. (1)

DavidClarkeHR (2769805) | about a year ago | (#43577155)

The money spent on the rescue bots could be used to properly construct at least ten times as many buildings.

Or on ... manned trips to mars, developing the singularity, perfecting the site-to-site short range transporter ... and they're all equally likely.

Re:Or proper construction. (3, Insightful)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year ago | (#43577345)

properly construct

Much of the construction process is out of your hands once you and the building contractor have reached an accord. In one of those pervasive occupational instances of irony, the difference between the price you've agreed on and what it actually costs to finish the project is what the contractor makes. Additionally, each subcontractor beneath the general contractor is working a 'bid job' as soon as their feet hit the site... in no way, shape, form, nor circumscription is this a statistically beneficial scenario for the building owner. Sure, there are some honest contractors who will complete a job per submittals and specifications even if they underbid the scope of their work, but I've seen examples of the other type aplenty.

Snakes on a... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577091)

Robot Snake Could Aid Search and Rescue Operations

Even if it was a "plane" crash?

Re:Snakes on a... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577223)

Sure, and, if it's a flexible robot, does that make it a "Bender"?

So let me get this straight... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577103)

... we're now building ROBOT SNAKES? Now we not only have to be afraid of robots and snakes, but some sort of hideous technological hybrid?

Re:So let me get this straight... (3, Funny)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about a year ago | (#43577213)

We'be been building them for the better part of a decade, and stories about them get posted to Slashdot after every major building collapse.

http://www.snakerobots.com/ [snakerobots.com]

Re:So let me get this straight... (1)

ralfmuschall (1782380) | about a year ago | (#43577605)

My problem with this is that robosnakes seem to get worse. The ones that Gavin Miller build a decade ago were autonomous (and one even could sidewind), the things in the video just looked like bags filled with The Creeping Chaos. Maybe the toy industry should take care of the problem, and then one could add search&rescue tools to cheap smart chinese toy robosnakes.

Re:So let me get this straight... (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about a year ago | (#43577853)

Maybe the toy industry should take care of the problem, and then one could add search&rescue tools to cheap smart chinese toy robosnakes.

Yep. Cheap, simple and mass-producible is a good goal, and worked well for drones and RC helicopters. Having said that, I'm not sure it would help with these.

I just don't see what the segmented worm approach adds that couldn't be achieved more simply by other means. I worked in fire and rescue for over a decade (admittedly a long time ago), and can't think of any situation where these would have added value over small tracked or wheeled robots. Even now, I think trained dogs [sarda.net.au] have a better success record than any technological solution, and other animals like ferrets or the rats discussed here previously [slashdot.org] might have an advantage in restricted spaces.

Re: So let me get this straight... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43578437)

It's because its full of snake oil

Wrong solution (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577109)

Perhaps designing better buildings would be more useful? Or perhaps they might build robot architects?

Re:Wrong solution (1)

Alex Belits (437) | about a year ago | (#43577149)

Robot owners of construction companies would be a much better direction of development.

Re:Wrong solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577175)

There's no problem with designing better buildings.

Paying the money to construct them, and not letting bribes to inspectors sway their certification, that's a problem.

Re:Wrong solution (1)

mellon (7048) | about a year ago | (#43580273)

It would also help if people weren't told to go work in the buildings when they were showing signs of imminent failure. Robotic snakes are great, but I don't need cheap jeans badly enough that people need to *die* for it!

Standard robot question... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577169)

Can you fuck it?

I'm thinking tentacle porn.. We could sell a bunch of them!

Stupid. (2)

Alex Belits (437) | about a year ago | (#43577193)

After looking at the video I have to conclude that:

MODERN DIRECTION OR ROBOTS DEVELOPMENT IS COMPLETELY ENTERTAINMENT-DRIVEN, AND NOT SUITABLE FOR ANY PRACTICAL PURPOSE.

Seriously, snake shape is absolutely worthless in those conditions. It looks good (as long as you don't follow it trying to wriggle its way across trivial obstacles for hours), and probably fun to program, however why anyone with any remnants of sanity would think, this is in any way useful, is still a mystery for me.

Real snakes have an advantage of great flexibility, high energy density and low weight. This contraption has no hope to utilize either of those things. Legs, some kind of folding wheels, even air jets would provide far greater mobility with the same size, and anyone who actually has a goal of developing a useful device, would use some of those solutions already. But noooo, they have to play with snake-like shape because snakes are cool.

Really, GTFO of my engineering and go do something on a stage.

Re:Stupid. (1)

RaceProUK (1137575) | about a year ago | (#43579635)

Real snakes have an advantage of great flexibility, high energy density and low weight. This contraption has no hope to utilize either of those things.

Just like how cellphones will never fit into your pocket.

Re:Stupid. (1)

Alex Belits (437) | about a year ago | (#43587935)

Just like how cellphones will never fit into your pocket.

Congratulations, you are an idiot!

Re:Stupid. (1)

RaceProUK (1137575) | about a year ago | (#43588009)

Just like how cellphones will never fit into your pocket.

Congratulations, you are an idiot!

You're right - I should have included a sarcasm tag.

Re:Stupid. (1)

Alex Belits (437) | about a year ago | (#43595607)

You're right - I should have included a sarcasm tag.

No, you should have included false analogy tag.

Re:Stupid. (1)

RaceProUK (1137575) | about a year ago | (#43596361)

Oh, how will I live with myself? *watches Futurama*

In terms of imagining productive deployment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577199)

... the demo doesn't exactly look awesome. Just a plumber's helper with a funny bot that jerks a video camera in random directions. I'm sure the technology to control the snake is pretty cool, but it looks like overkill for what it's accomplishing.

Then someone has to make sense of the rapidly spinning video images.

May be a social issue with using snakes (3, Interesting)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | about a year ago | (#43577205)

Quite a number of people on the Indian subcontinent die every year from cobra strikes. Snakes are an object of horror -- if you're trapped in a pile of rubble, a snake may not be the thing they want to see.

Other than that, I think it's a great idea.

Re:May be a social issue with using snakes (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year ago | (#43577325)

Well, let's nip this idea in the bud, then. Because a cobra looks just like a sinuous reptile and it's totally OK to pander to superstitions.

Re:May be a social issue with using snakes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43578207)

Yes, let's ignore cultural differences for the greater glory of the Western technonerd.

Re:May be a social issue with using snakes (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about a year ago | (#43578453)

Westerners don't like snakes either.

Rescue Effort or Devil Sign? (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year ago | (#43577401)

"Mom, there's a snake with a flashlight crawling through the rubble." Yup, I suppose trapped Christians would be fsked, but is there a Hindi aversion to the serpent Saitana?

Re:Rescue Effort or Devil Sign? (1)

uvajed_ekil (914487) | about a year ago | (#43577977)

"Asps. Very Dangerous. You go first."

Re:May be a social issue with using snakes (1)

ralfmuschall (1782380) | about a year ago | (#43577491)

I don't think this is a problem. People in India who suffer from snakebites (the agile cobras cause only a small minority of the accidents, most are vipers which are to lazy to run away (Romulus Whitaker did an analysis of that a few years ago)) get bitten from stepping on them (or rolling onto them whilst asleep in the case of kraits). A cobra seeing you trapped under rubble would simply ignore you for not being a threat. I assume that people in India are aware of these facts (but OTOH I'd expect first-world-people to panic when they have serious problems (like e.g. the smartphone not working properly) and a baby corn snake approaches them).

Re:May be a social issue with using snakes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577823)

um yeah, because when you're trapped in a collapsed building you totally care about what the robot that rescues you looks like

maybe they should do a selection of different colors for the benefit of fashion-aware disaster victims too

Re:May be a social issue with using snakes (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about a year ago | (#43578171)

maybe they should do a selection of different colors for the benefit of fashion-aware disaster victims too

  That's a good idea, and maybe have it make comforting sounds as it travels. Attaching a child's rattle, for example.

Re:May be a social issue with using snakes (1)

HPHatecraft (2748003) | about a year ago | (#43580723)

The solution: bolt a PA system on the robot that would allow you to loop customized messages, say every 15 seconds or so. Just make sure you QC the recording.

"Don't worry -- I'm a robot and I'm ^#@!! here to eat you."
"Don't worry -- I'm a robot and I'm ^#@!! here to eat you."
"Don't worry -- I'm a robot and I'm ^#@!! here to eat you." ...

Re:May be a social issue with using snakes (1)

Dabido (802599) | about a year ago | (#43590431)

It might be received well. The Naga (snake) is a symbol of protection through most of South East Asia and I believe India. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N [wikipedia.org] ga http://www.rugusavay.com/myth-of-naga-hinduism-buddhism-mythology/ [rugusavay.com] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mucalinda [wikipedia.org] Snakes in Asia are usually considered good. A snake in the roof (thatched) is good for keeping the rodents down and stopping food (rice grains) being stolen and eaten etc. Of course, it could make a person trapped in rubble wet themselves. Depends how religious they are I suspect.

Panic Factor (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#43577251)

I understand why you would want to emulate a snake: a smooth flexible body with no limbs to get snagged could get through tiny crevices and cross gaps that a wheeled vehicle would fall through. However, I think they are forgetting a huge psychological factor here - people fear snakes. A person is lying, pinned beneath some rubble, confused, in pain and helpless. Suddenly they see this snake crawling through the rubble, getting closer and closer. They will panic. They will try to get out, injuring themselves further. Either that, or they will try to kill the snake, potentially damaging the robot.

Besides, that robot needs to be a lot more flexible, or use the toroidal skin drive they've developed, to move better.

Re:Panic Factor (1)

ralfmuschall (1782380) | about a year ago | (#43577525)

*First world people* fear snakes, with the bible (Gen 3:1-5) being a significant cause IMHO. In countries where seriously venomous snakes exist, they are venerated a holy animals, and people are aware that trying to kill a snake is a bad idea (it is the snake which you don't see (and therefore step on it) that bites you). A snake being seen crawling around is harmless *unless you attack it*, and even then it will most probably flee.

Re:Panic Factor (2)

TheSeatOfMyPants (2645007) | about a year ago | (#43578541)

*First world people* fear snakes, with the bible (Gen 3:1-5) being a significant cause IMHO.

The Bible might be a major cause in highly-religious areas, but not in the rest of the country; it would be extremely unusual out on the US West Coast where I live, for example. (I've never known anyone that took religion *that* seriously; the closest I can think of was a hardcore Irish Catholic great-aunt born in the 1920s that would have been insulted enough to call me an idiot if I even asked whether she found snakes scary due to the Bible.)

In countries where seriously venomous snakes exist, they are venerated a holy animals

We have a few snakes that are venomous enough to be deadly to adults if antivenin isn't administered, and are extremely dangerous for kids or seniors -- for example, the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake has a 10-30% fatality rate. The reason the more dangerous snakes here don't kill very often is because good antivenin has been developed and improvements in roads/vehicles mean it's usually possible to get a human victim treatment in time. AFAIK, everyone I know is afraid of snakes primarily because we were warned about the deadly ones as kids and don't trust our ability to accurately distinguish dangerous kinds from snakes that merely look similar.

Re:Panic Factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577883)

Yeah, because real snakes have bright lights mounted on their heads. /FUD

Re:Panic Factor (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#43579757)

Yeah, because real snakes have bright lights mounted on their heads. /FUD

Panic trumps rationality. I had a friend who is afraid of spiders. Once she saw one drop behind the stereo in her living room. She panicked, and ran TOWARDS the spider in order to get out of the room.

So instead..... (1)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about a year ago | (#43577277)

So instead of a dozen or so search and rescue personnel combing through debris, or helping survivors, they'll have one or two people staring at this things camera feed as it ever so slowly makes its way through a damaged building. Make them much smaller, cheap and autonomous so you can litter them throughout a site to find survivors and you might have something really useful. Until then this thing seems like a really expensive and wasteful toy.

Re:So instead..... (1)

ralfmuschall (1782380) | about a year ago | (#43577567)

I expect that this is the plan. Just send hundreds of robosnakes into the building. Staring at the screens is cheap, and then you can send the trained personnel to the places where help is needed.

Re:So instead..... (1)

Solandri (704621) | about a year ago | (#43578565)

Part of the problem with searching through a collapsed building is the risk of further collapses. Rescuers have been killed by subsequent collapses during an aftershock or when removing a chunk of debris caused remaining debris to shift and fall. And quite frequently the rescuers are forced to abandon a building because the engineers deem it too unstable to safely search when nobody knows if there's even anyone still alive inside.

With a robot you could search regardless of the safety risks, and concentrate rescue efforts which risk rescuers' lives only at locations where you know there's someone still alive.

Came for the tentacle porn ... (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#43577303)

... left disappointed.

Re:Came for the tentacle porn ... (1)

ikaruga (2725453) | about a year ago | (#43578085)

You won't be for too long. Tokyo Institute of Technology(TIT, couldn't be more appropriate) already has a robot snake [titech.ac.jp] . I trust the Japanese will deliver.

...trapping some three thousand people? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577419)

Nevermind the nearly 400 dead at last count, but that's too inconvenient to type out for a Slashdot story which appears to say people were only trapped after the building collapsed in Dhaka.

Who can afford it? (1)

manu0601 (2221348) | about a year ago | (#43577441)

I wonder what countries could afford such thing for their rescue team? If you do not have money to build a decent building, do you have money to spare for that kind of gadget?

So... (2)

jamstar7 (694492) | about a year ago | (#43577499)

Cue 'hamster rescue' jokes in 3... 2... 1...

Re:So... (1)

Tasha26 (1613349) | about a year ago | (#43578237)

i initially misread the title as "robot shake" as in, another viral harlem shake or whatever derivative.

Until those MFing robot snakes get on a plane! (1)

girlinatrainingbra (2738457) | about a year ago | (#43577651)

It's all good until those mother-fucking robot snakes get on a mother-fucking plane! A drone plane! MF'in' Robot snakes on a Drone plane! And fricking sharks with laser beams -- /{vox Samuel Jackson}
"No movie shall triumph over Snakes on a Plane. Unless I happen to feel like making a movie called More Motherfucking Snakes on More Motherfucking Planes." -- actual quote from Samuel Jackson [wikipedia.org] [and I assert and deem that those new snakes shall be robotic!!! - gia]

spoiled rich american kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43577835)

who buy cheap clothes from sleazy american firms with ceos makig millions, that who caused the problem
shoot a few ceos, make the kids at cmu live in India as garmetn workers for a few days, problem solved

but no, lets by total hypocrites, and ignore the fact that we caused the problem, lets pretend to do something useful and offer pie in the sky hi tech BS

makes me want to vomit

Releax people, its only a snake... (1)

bayankaran (446245) | about a year ago | (#43577891)

Reading the comments so far, two issues are repeatedly reinforced...or two incorrect assumptions so stupid I don't know why they are moderated to 'insightful' or 'important'.

First one - if it looks like a snake it will scare people further. This is nonsense...a robotic snake will behave like a snake - but not look like a snake (or at least it can be made to look not like a snake - with some flashing LED lights on the body.) The mouth will have some camera, rather than fangs. Plus these are small robots. A Cobra whose bite can kill you in two hours is big - more than 2 meters.

Second issue - how can a country which cannot build a building to appropriate standards buy such costly equipment? This is so idiotic an argument I do not know where to start refuting. Let me use a car analogy - imagine buying a cheap car alarm or a steering wheel lock for your cheap clunker.

Skip bot, use dog. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43578299)

Why not just cut out the robot and put a radio and camera on the dog. 100x better than a robot at finding and helping people.

A 13 Year Old Story Resubmit? Old News (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about a year ago | (#43578405)

This Proof of Concept was mentioned in 2000.

Re:A 13 Year Old Story Resubmit? Old News (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43578477)

I worked at this robotics lab in 2008 and it was exactly the same.

Hooray! (1)

SeaFox (739806) | about a year ago | (#43578521)

Snakes... on a plane-wreck!

Search Snakes (1)

Bahamut_Omega (811064) | about a year ago | (#43578597)

I'm going to assume someone builds a replica of Snake Man from Megaman/Rockman 3 that fires actual Search Snakes.

old claims and older research (1)

girlinatrainingbra (2738457) | about a year ago | (#43578633)

So every time a snake robot PR blurb is published, a university PR and Patents & Innovation department gets a pat on the back! See a 1993 article about snake-like locomotion in biologically inspired robots
.
-- S. Hirose, P. Cave, and C. Goulden, Biologically inspired robots: snake-like locomotors and manipulators, vol. 64. Oxford University Press Oxford, UK, 1993

[ link found as # 14 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bio-inspired_robotics [wikipedia.org] ]

-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roboboa [wikipedia.org] = Roboboas has 4 angled body sections, allowing Roboboa to coil by rotating adjacent sections. A motorized tail roller and casters on the midsection allow Roboboa to move in a straight line.

-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake-arm_robot [wikipedia.org]

-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snakebot [wikipedia.org] = Snake robots come in all shapes and sizes, from the three meters long, fire fighting snakebot developed by SINTEF,[1] to a medical snakebot developed at Carnegie Mellon University that is thin enough to maneuver around organs inside a human chest cavity. Though snakebots can vary greatly in size and design, there are two qualities that all snakebots share. First, their small cross section to length ratio allows them to move into, and maneuver through, tight spaces. Second, their ability to change the shape of their body allows them to perform a wide range of behaviours, such as climbing stairs or tree trunks.

And my favorite section is at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robotics#Snaking [wikipedia.org] : Several snake robots have been successfully developed. Mimicking the way real snakes move, these robots can navigate very confined spaces, meaning they may one day be used to search for people trapped in collapsed buildings.[72] The Japanese ACM-R5 snake robot[73] can even navigate both on land and in water.[74] [these references are:

72 = http://www.snakerobots.com/ [snakerobots.com]

73 = http://www-robot.mes.titech.ac.jp/robot/snake/acm-r5/acm-r5_e.html [titech.ac.jp] with cool pictures of swimming snake robots

74 = Swimming snake robot (commentary in Japanese) [google.com]

long time coming (1)

Phoenix666 (184391) | about a year ago | (#43579425)

boy these things have been a long time coming. my brother worked non this as an engineering student in 1998. I remember seeing it when I visited his lab at Carnegie Mellon, along with the spider robot they sent into Mt. Erebus. at that time it had no means of locomotion.

Python as Robotic Parseltongue? (1)

BambarbiaKirgudu (2876515) | about a year ago | (#43579513)

One may wonder in what language this robosnake' software is written.

fiction vs. reality (1)

muckracer (1204794) | about a year ago | (#43580061)

"So how'd those new robot snakes work out when you poured through the rubble?"
"Excellent, Sir! We've located 4 survivors with them!"
"Nice work!! Their relatives must be ecstatic!"
"Well, actually it didn't work out that way, Sir..."
"Whaddayamean?!"
"All 4 unfortunately succumbed to heart attacks as soon as we spotted them, Sir..."
"Well, that's not good! Really not!!"
"No, Sir. We're still working on that part..."

Get Smart (1)

SpectreBlofeld (886224) | about a year ago | (#43580137)

99: Max, what's that?
Maxwell Smart: An electric snake. Very good for creating a diversion.
99: That's amazing! What does it run on?
Maxwell Smart: Tiny little feet.

A few problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43580313)

Snake robots have been around a while, and not gotten much use in USAR (Urban Search and Rescue).
Lots of reasons:
1) It has to replace something else the USAR team carries: they have limited volume and mass. It has to do something better than existing stuff, and replace the existing stuff's function.
2) It has an umbilical (no doubt for power and control). Snakes are not energy efficient, and USAR gear needs to have battery life on the order of 12 hours or more (that's what a USAR shift is, 12 on/12 off, except when you are working straight through)
3) It doesn't fit well with the USAR operational approach which separates the search into two phases: detect victims; locate and rescue. Detect can be done by other technologies, so what the snake does is locate. The problem is that you probably don't know where the snake actually is. (I guess you can follow that umbilical like Ariadne's string). USAR folks now basically cut and dig their way through the rubble using conventional tools (jack hammer, saws, bold cutters, box cutter) and pass the debris back up the hole until they reach the victim, and then the victim is extracted through the hole the rescuer made. I'm not sure the snake robot could collect sufficient information about the path it follows to make the job of the rescuer easier. Can it shake stuff to see if it's going to fall down or move?
4) The environment is really rough in real disaster sites. Compare the fairly clean footage from Texas to pictures of Bangaladesh or West, TX. You have to be able to tolerate mud, water, abrasive material, etc.
5) None of the footage shows (nor on the CMU website) the control end of things. Is it an academic lab, maybe some Sun Workstations or a Lisp Machine? Can the snake be controlled only with it's dedicated controller? (more mass and volume, and batteries) or can you run an application on some commodity laptop running Windows (or iOS or Android)?

All of these things can get solved, but it's hard, and it's not fun Computer Science stuff that is attractive to a PhD candidate, who is more interested in gait analysis and design or fuzzy-logic control algorithms for segments, or self organizing systems. The work of getting it into the field is more grinding out the packaging details, making good user interfaces, figuring out how to manufacture the things, and myriad grunt work.

It's all about the power source (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about a year ago | (#43581095)

Or lack thereof. All of these recent robot and UAV developments are cool and potentially useful but we still keep missing the boat on the über power source. Lots of law enforcement agencies bought into the quadcopter UAV concept spending tens of thousands of dollars on them only to discover that the flight times are really short. They were expecting to be able to keep them aloft for hours. (Never mind the social issues.) The same thing applies to the snake robot. What's going to happen when the battery dies under a pile of rubble? And if you hard wire it, how is that going to limit its performance given that it has to pull an increasingly heavy cable thought non-smooth environments?

Re:It's all about the power source (1)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about a year ago | (#43581819)

Maybe finally a chance to use Tesla's wireless power ideas. At least in a limited area.

Appearance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43581857)

These need to be painted all one color with a nice, big Red Cross (or your country's equivalent) logo on every side of every segment. I know a few people who would have a heart attack if they saw one of these slithering toward them. People in dire circumstances are often panicked, dumb it down for them. Make the robot's appearance say, "I'm here to help" as much as possible.

Still dreaming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586105)

So... err... when will I see a headline about these rescue robots actually... err... rescue somebody?

They seem to be building them, but none is actually used in the real world.

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