Welcome to the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR)

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CRASAR is a nonprofit corporation organized to foster unmanned systems being effectively used by formal emergency management agencies through voluntary national and international activities that deploy, promote, train, document, analyze, and disseminate scientific knowledge.

The activities in which we expect to engage in include, but are not limited to,
  • deploying, upon request of incident command staff, regional volunteer teams who are vetted and trained on the unique attributes of unmanned systems for disasters, even if the requesting agency cannot guarantee reimbursement and having the unmanned systems in use within 12 hours of the event. CRASAR has participated in 27 of the over 50 documented deployments of disaster robots throughout the world and have formally analyzed dozens of 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.
  • providing “just in time” training and consultation for emergency professionals to enable them to effectively use the resources they have available;  Please see our one-page guides below.
  • conducting field studies and translative research and development in unmanned systems for the prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery from critical incidents;  CRASAR members have been world leaders in documenting the use of unmanned systems for disasters and identifying gaps and research opportunities. See Disaster Robotics (MIT Press, 2014 in hardcopy or kindle) or the chapter on Rescue Robotics in the Springer Handbook of Robotics.  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.
  • collecting, archiving, curating, analyzing, and sharing data about the use of unmanned systems and related technologies. CRASAR members at Texas A&M and Florida State University currently have a NSF RAPID grant to make the small UAS datasets from flights at Hurricanes Harvey and Irma available to researchers. CRASAR helps organize and sponsor conferences such as the annual IEEE Safety Security Rescue Robotics conference and workshops such as the recent White House OSTP Workshop on Robots for Ebola.
  • training emergency management, and related, professionals in advance, either online or in person, on unmanned systems and the latest best practices. Since 2001, CRASAR has trained over 1000 responders from 7 countries and 20 states in unmanned systems, starting with a Florida workforce grant focusing on ground robots leading to a set of awareness and operator classes. CRASAR has since created small unmanned aerial systems classes focusing on best practices.


Resources Including Guides and Best Practices for Small UAVs at Disasters

A good overview of rescue robotics is in Disaster Robotics by Robin Murphy (MIT Press, Amazon, and Kindle)- Disaster Robotics is for both practitioners and researchers. It covers 34 deployments worldwide from 2001 through 2013, describes the missions, and next discusses the specific applications and lessons learned for ground (Chapter 3), aerial (Chapter 4), and marine (Chapter 5) vehicles, and then ends with recommendations on how to conduct deployments and field work (Chapter 6). Disaster Robotics won the 2014 PROSE honorable mention for best engineering and science writing.

Here are helpful 1 page guides and best practices for small unmanned aerial systems that have been incorporated into United Nations humanitarian standards and are continuing to evolve:

Click here for more information about CRASAR and its activities.

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

And a small disclaimer- this website is still under construction and out of compliance with Texas A&M University formats. Even the logo is off. We’re working on replacing it!

Recent News From Our Blog

Top 5 Surprises in Unmanned Systems for Mudslides

CRASAR's Sam Stover and Robin Murphy at 2005 La Conchita, California, mudslides

CRASAR’s Sam Stover and Robin Murphy at 2005 La Conchita, California, mudslides

I’ve been getting questions about the use of unmanned systems for the recent horrific Montecito mudslides, so let me extend my earlier tweet, both in terms of thoughts and prayers to the victims and also the technical details. It does not appear that small UAS are being used by the formal responders for Montecito.

  1. Unmanned systems- ground and aerial- have been used since 2005 and there are opportunities for marine systems as well. Unmanned systems have been used at least three times in the United States for landslides, two by CRASAR teams. UGVs were used for the 2005 La Conchita, California mudslide (which was the first ever use of an unmanned system for a mudslide), while UAS were used for the 2014 Oso, Washington, and Collbran, Colorado, mudslides. Both fixed and rotorcraft UAS were used at Oso and Collbran.At Oso, it would have nice to have had an autonomous marine vehicle with sonar to map the underwater portions. See  this paper  on the 2005 La Conchita and blog mudslide and  2014 Oso mudslide plus more lessons learned are in Disaster Robotics and in our older blogs. Plus see video Oso composite of small UAS flights 
  2. The primary use for UAS has been for reconnaissance and mapping, not life safety. In the La Conceit mudslide, CRASAR worked with Ventura County, Los Angeles County, and Los Angeles City fire departments using shoe-boxed sized ground robots to try to get through basement voids and narrow windows in order to search collaterally damaged buildings for a missing family. Search dogs had given ambiguous indications but it was too dangerous to send in a human responder and the dogs couldn’t squeeze in. The robots weren’t used in the primary mudslide area because this type of mud had penetrated every house in its path leaving no pockets  and would require a burrowing robot such as the sand lizard styles being researched by Dan Goldman and Howie Choset. In the Collbran (Deputy Sheriff Ben Miller at Mesa County used their systems) and Oso mudslides (The Field Innovation Team/CRASAR team worked under the direction of Snohomish County), the UAS were used for gathering essential elements of information about the disaster area and assessing the situation. This includes determining the boundaries of the disaster area; access points to the disaster area; social, economic and political impacts (e.g., at Oso there were concerns about additional property damage and impacts on salmon); geophysical information (e.g., topology and volume of debris); projecting impacts; and initial needs and damage assessment. The Montecito mudslides illustrate that another EEI, assessing the status of transportation systems— what roads and trails were still open to get responders in and civilians evacuated, is also important. The UAS at Oso and Collbran also allowed the incident commander to see where teams actually were and also ensure that unauthorized personnel weren’t entering the cordoned off area.
  3. A UAS platform that can perform only autonomous mapping is highly limited for the immediate response. Both Oso and Collbran had missions that required first person view/manual flight where experts could direct the UAS in real-time in order to better assess the situation. At Oso, the PrecisionHawk Lancaster was extremely valuable in rapidly mapping the disaster, but the responders also used the AR100B quadcopter to hover and stare over the water to estimate flow rate, locate personnel, determine progress on mitigation efforts, and generally get closer looks at objects and activities that they didn’t know that needed to look at until they saw it from the air.
  4. The biggest unanticipated UAS challenge has been flying mapping missions in complex terrain, not endurance or distance. While having a UAS with the endurance and capability to cover an entire mountain from a single launch point is important, the limitations (and LOS regulations) are well-understood by the UAS operators. The unexpected problem was the complexity of the terrain. The autonomous mapping software programs assumed a flat earth, suitable for agricultural mapping but the areas of interest were in the “toe” of a mountain and a plain. The elevation of the landscape varied. In addition, the landscape had forests with some trees higher than others. This presented challenges for autonomous mapping, especially as it was desired to fly the UAS as low as practical in order to get the high resolution imagery.  The operators had to create “stair steps” missions for fixed-wings and vertical slices for quadcopters. In Oso, the CRASAR team used a quadcopter to fly to the tallest tree in a “patch” and get the actual height so that the fixed-wing could be programmed to stay well above that height. The advances in obstacle avoidance by DJI would have been very helpful.
  5. Protecting personal identifying information (PII) and privacy has been the biggest barrier in deployment. Data management and chain of custody has long been a requirement of unmanned systems use by formal response agencies. The Oso mudslides illustrated how touchy PII and privacy can be. At the Oso Mudslides, UAS operations were suddenly cancelled due to concerns over victim privacy; this was later resolved when the incident command staff was able to clarify that the UAS would be flying over the “toe” of the mudslide and river and not where victims were being recovered.  Ironically, the FIT/CRASAR team had talked to all the local property owners to assure them that the UAVs would not be flying over their land and any recorded imagery would belong to the county and released only with their permission.

If you have documentation on other deployments of unmanned systems to landslides, please send me the info and I’ll send you a CRASAR patch!

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