Welcome to the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) at Texas A&M University

CRASAR is a Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Center whose mission is to improve disaster preparedness, prevention, response, and recovery through the development and adoption of robots and related technologies. Its goal is to create a “community of practice” throughout the world for rescue robots that motivates fundamental research, supports technology transfer, and educates students, response professionals, and the public. CRASAR is a dynamic mix of university researchers, industry, and responders.

CRASAR has participated in 15 of the 35 documented deployments of disaster robots throughout the world and have formally analyzed 9 others, providing a comprehensive archive of rescue robots in practice. Our industry partners and funding agencies make a wide range of small land, sea, and air robots available for use by responders at no charge through the Roboticists Without Borders program. Our human-robot crew organization and protocols developed first for UGVs, where studies show a 9 times increase in team performance, and then extended for small UAVs during our flights at Hurricane Katrina has been adopted by Italian and German UAV response teams and was used by the Westinghouse team for the use of the Honeywell T-Hawk at the Fukushima nuclear accident.

CRASAR helps organize and sponsor conferences such as the annual IEEE Safety Security Rescue Robotics conference and workshops such as the recent NSF-JST-NIST Workshop on Rescue Robots.

A good overview of rescue robotics is in Disaster Robotics by Robin Murphy (MIT Press, Amazon, and Kindle) and  Chapter 50 of the award-winning Handbook of Robotics. Here’s a list of all known robot deployments: Table of Responses.

Fun facts from “Disaster Robots”:

- All ground, aerial, and marine robots have been teleoperated (like the Mars Rovers) rather than fully autonomous (like a Roomba), primarily because the robots allow the responders to look and act in real-time; there’s always something they need to see or do immediately

- Robots have been at at least 35 events, and actually used at at least 29 (sometimes the robot is too big or not intrinsically safe)

- The biggest technical barrier is the human-robot interaction. Over 50% of the failures (a total of 27 at 13 incidents) have been human error.

- Robots are not used until an average of 6.5 days after a disaster; either an agency has a robot and they use it within 0.5 days or they don’t and it takes 7.5 days to realize a robot would be of use and get it on site

Click here for more information about CRASAR and its activities.

Donate online to CRASAR to support deployments of Roboticists Without Borders!

Recent News From Our Blog

More About Our Workshop on Safety Robotics for Ebola Workers Nov. 7-8

CRASAR members in Level A (2004)

CRASAR members in Level A (2004)

Texas A&M is one of the four sites co-hosting a OSTP/NRI Workshop on Safety Robotics for Ebola Workers. Our workshop will be November 7-8, with November 7 coordinated with the other three sites and November 8 as a follow-on at Disaster City specifically on technology transfer. We are still working on the agenda, but attendance is limited and by invitation. Participants need to be physically at College Station in order to help generate and rank the list of opportunities for robotics to give to the White House and to work with the medical and humanitarian responders to elicit operational details critical for successful technology transfer. Attached are some photos of a 2004 robotics exercise we hosted with the USMC Chemical Biological Incident Response Force- as you can see we learned a lot about working with PPE. Likewise our involvement in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident reinforced and amplified how little things can trip up responses.

Our site’s workshop  will address how robots can be used beyond protecting Ebola workers and that it will focus not only on helping identify what robots can do but on how robots must do it in order to be successful. Here at A&M we are striving to create a set of detailed use cases and projected robot requirements that can be used by industry and the TEEX Product Development Center. The robotics community cannot provide robots without understanding the needs otherwise engineering mistakes or mismatches that will be both  financially costly and delay the delivery of effective solutions.

Robot carrying a victim at CRASAR/USMC CBIRF exercise (2004)

Robot carrying a victim at CRASAR/USMC CBIRF exercise (2004)

To meet these objectives, our workshop is focused on working with medical and humanitarian relief experts (they talk, we listen) to answer two questions:

  • what are the most pressing problems, barriers, or bottlenecks? e.g. minimizing contact while burying bodies or disposing of waste, health worker protection from infection,decontamination and disinfection of facilities, detection of presence of Ebola in facilities,tele-consulting by remote experts, health work physical safety, delivery of supplies, etc.
  • What is the value proposition of using a robot? e.g., benefits versus manpower, logistics support, training requirements, economic costs, etc.Is a robot the best choice? For example, Dr. Mark Lawley here in Industrial and Systems Engineering is working on adapting low-cost flexible manufacturing methods for waste and materials handling within the field hospitals where a mobile robot would be a technological overkill.
In my previous blog, I described 9 categories of applications that we’ve identified so far for robots for Ebola.  It’s fairly easy to come up with ideas and there is a wealth of ground, aerial, and marine robots that can be repurposed. But it’s much harder to determine  what’s the real value to the medical and humanitarian responders and to ferret out those hidden requirements that support a successful technology transfer.  Our research and hands-on experiences at CRASAR has shown that military robots have not been a perfect match for fire rescue and law enforcement and many attempts by vendors to deploy their robots to disasters or to sell their robots to the homeland security community have failed. I see these failures stemming from three  types of constraints: the operational envelope, work domain,and culture.
  • The operational envelope focuses on workspace attributes such as environmental conditions, size of doors in field hospitals, communication and power infrastructure, etc. As detailed in Disaster Robotics, several types of rescue robots were not used at the 9/11 World Trade Center because they could not fit in the luggage bays on buses hired to carry FEMA search and rescue teams. Some concerns about robots such as how can robots be decontaminated  become moot  if the robot can be recharged and maintained by workers inside the Hot Zone so that it never needs decon– but this of course means that functions can be performed by workers wearing personal protection equipment.
  • The work domain is critical as anyone who works in system design knows. Who are the stakeholders? Will these robotic solution employ locals so as to help support their economy? If so, what does that mean in terms of making robots that are easy to use and reliable? We use a formal method called cognitive work analysis to determine the work domain.
  • Culture is technically part of the work domain, but I personally think it merits special attention. We robot designers need to have cultural sensitivity to customsfor caring for the ill and conducting burials if we create robots to tend to the sick and transport the deceased. The rhythms of village life also impact humanitarian relief, for example it is better for a medium sized UAV to drop off a large payload of supplies and let the village equivalent of the American Red Cross representative go fetch it and deliver it to different households as part of their daily routine or should a smaller UAV do a precision drop to individuals?
Robot operator's view from the controller

Robot operator’s view from the controller

Robot eye view of victim being transported so medical person can make sure they aren't having a seizure, etc.

Robot eye view of victim being transported so medical person can make sure they aren’t having a seizure, etc.

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