Archive for April, 2011

Press coverage of ROV deployment

Here’s an English version of the Japanese AFP reports quoting the mayor of Minami-Sanriku.

PRESS RELEASE 4/24/11: Underwater robots clear port, look for victims

Points of Contact in Japan:

Dr. Fumitoshi Matsuno, matsuno@me.kyoto-u.ac.jp

Points of Contact in US:

Dr. Robin Murphy, CRASAR, murphy@cse.tamu.edu, via Kimberly Mallet

Joshua Chamot, National Science Foundation, jchamot@nsf.gov, (703) 292-7730

Tim Schnettler, Texas A&M, tschnettler@tamu.edu, 979-458-2277

Vickie Chachere, University of South Florida, (813) 974-6251

A team of research and industry experts with four state-of-the-art small underwater vehicles from the US-based Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue has returned Sunday from five days in the Minami Sanriku and Rikuzen Takada areas of Japan.  CRASAR worked with the Japanese-based International Rescue Systems institute to inspect port areas as well as search for bodies trapped in flotsam or under submerged rubble. The suitcase-sized robots have advanced imaging sonars that can penetrate the murky water along with video cameras. The robots were deployed at six locations along the coast north of Sendai, working in areas that were unsafe for Japanese Coast Guard divers.  The robots did not find any bodies but received praise from Minami Sanriku Mayor Hitoshi Sato who said that the city’s port facility essential to the fishing industry would be reopened based on the robot data.

The remotely operated vehicles, called ROVs, are extremely small versions similar to the robots used at the BP Oil Spill. They vary in size from the suitcase-sized Seamor to the tiny football-sized AC-ROV to the, making them easy to transport. The SeaBotix SARbot was used the most; it is designed especially for emergency responders to be able to use to find victims trapped underwater in vehicles.  All of the robots have a tether to allow the operators to control the vehicles in real time and see the sonar and video camera footage.

The joint effort was led by Prof. Tetsuya Kimura (Nagaoka University of Technology), Prof. Fumitoshi Matsuno (Kyoto University), and Prof. Robin Murphy (Texas A&M) with funding for the US researchers from the National Science Foundation. The team members donated their time and equipment through the CRASAR humanitarian Roboticists Without Borders program. CRASAR and IRS are the leading research centers on rescue robotics, with CRASAR deploying robots to disasters worldwide including the 9/11 World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina. The other US members were Dr. Eric Steimle from AEOS Inc., a Florida start-up company specializing in marine environmental monitoring, Jesse Rodocker and Sean Newsome from SeaBotix, a leading manufacturer of ROVs, and Karen Dreger from the University of South Florida’s Center for Ocean Technology.

See www.crasar.org for links to example photos and video footage of robots, robot-eye views, and general operations. Higher resolution b-roll is available upon request.

CRASAR back from Japan: 6 sites, 5 days, 4 new research areas, 3 robots

CRASAR-IRS team photo, courtesy of CRASAR and NSF (Robin Murphy, Karen Dreger, Eric Steimle, Sean Newsome, Tetsuya Kimura, Jesse Rodocker, Satoshi Tadokoro, Kenichi Makabe)

We’re now all back in the US. Our third day at Rikuzen Takada, in the pouring rain and high wave activity, did not find any victims, so we were a bit disappointed. We participated in a press conference held by our hosts, the International Rescue Systems institute at the Chiba Institute of Technology on Sunday morning (Dr. Anne Emig from NSF Tokyo was there and it was great to meet her in person- she’s been a tremendous help), then dropped off gear at Continental cargo (huge thanks!), boarded our flights, and flew home. We cannot thank our host Prof. Tetsuya Kimura, Prof. Fumitoshi Matsuno, their grad students, and the IRS team enough for their help! We hope to obtain NSF funding to return with a different set of robots better tuned to searching for bodies under flotsam or underwater debris within a month.

It was nice to see that Minami Sanriku Mayor Hitoshi Sato publicly stated that the new port facility was being reopened because of our search.  The Rikuzen Takada City Manager, like the Minami Sanriku fisheries expert, also was interested in the ROVs for use with fishing and oyster farming- a positive, unintended consequence of being there.

Here’s some numbers about our work:

In total we searched six sites in Japan over 5 days.

Of the four robots in our cache, we only used 3. We used the SeaBotix SARbot at each site- it was definitely engineered for underwater search and rescue making it easy to quickly deploy. The SeaBotix LBV-300 was not used, as the SARbot was sufficient for the areas of interest and using the LBV-300 at the same time as the SARbot would require them to have to work in different areas to avoid their sonars from interfering with each other.  The Seamor was used twice and its DIDSON sonar (which doesn’t interfere with the SARbot Gemini sonar) had some advantages but wasn’t intended to be a rapidly deployable system. The Access AC-ROV, essentially a camcorder with thrusters, was also used twice in clear water to assess debris in very shallow water. It was fun to literally throw it in the water.

At the press conference we reported out on four preliminary findings on needed research:

1. Simulation and Geographical Information Systems- we’d like to see work in projecting the location of victims, and mechanisms to then update models as bodies were recovered

2. Cyber-physical systems- we definitely see the need for autonomous station-keeping to keep objects in view and accurate control in all kinds of water conditions
3. Computer vision & cognitive engineering- while underwater search and recovery is something that is perceptually a bit like Supreme Court Justics Potter Stewart’s quote about pornography (“I’ll know it when I see it”), we believe that cooperative computer vision algorithms permitting object cueing (“look here dummy”)  and  sensor fusion of sonar and video would be of great benefit.
4. Human-robot interaction- I suspect based on my rough observations that the operators never got beyond Level 2 Situation Awareness using Dr. Mica Endsley’s scheme, so help with visualization of surrounding clutter and advances in multi-modal interfaces would be useful.

Day 2 at Rikuzen-Takada: more video

Our CRASAR/IRS team continues to work in Rikuzen-Takada searching coves and flotsam jams that the Japanese Coast Guard divers cannot check. Today will be our last day and then we will return home on Sunday. The devastation is unimaginable and we have made only the tiniest dent in the victim recovery process and haven’t even touched critical infrastructure inspection and recovery operations.

These videos show the value of the image enhancement software on the SARbot, which has been our “go to” ROV. (And yes, we did all gasp when we first saw the glove, thinking it was a hand.) We were told to expect victims either trapped under flotsam or partially buried in slit on the sea bottom.

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

Rikuzen-Takada: robots go where divers cannot

We worked at two sites in the Rikuzen-Takada area after meeting with the Mayor yesterday and then this morning with the City Manager in the city offices overlooking the spectacular bay. The Mayor lost his wife, and the City Manager, his wife and daughter,  in the tsunami as they were at home by the water while they were at work when the wave hit. A reminder of why we’re here- it’s not the technology, it’s about people.

Japanese Coast Guard examining SARbot at IRS/CRASAR deployment to Rikuzentakada, courtesy Eric Steimle, CRASAR, NSF

Our hosts, the International Rescue Systems institute, coordinating the search  with the Japanese Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard divers were very enthusiastic about the ROVs because the divers are forbidden to dive under structures or flotsam such as these houses here. But victims may be trapped under that rubble…

This video is from the SARbot (which was able in less than 10 minutes from car stopping to robot getting across the landing to get under the house).

We also used the AC-ROV for the first time on the trip– it’s essentially a camcorder with thrusters!

No sign of bodies, but we were able to check off two areas that the Coast Guard had been unable to explore. More today.

YouTube Preview Image

MSNBC web “front pager”

is here.

Finished with Minami-sanriku-choy, on to Rikuzen-Takada

YouTube Preview Image  We finished yesterday (Wednesday) surveying the “new port” area of Minami-sanriku-choy today, finding debris but all at depths greater than 5m. That means the fishing boats can safely start using that area again. The SARbot and Seamore (and their teams) performed admirably, while the other robots stayed back at the city sports arena that serves as the emergency center. You can see the video of them against the bulldozers stacking up rubble and burning it. We’re in Rikuzen-Takada for the next 2 days.

We were surprised at the lack of cars and other big objects underwater. The lower portions of the town is one rumbled mass of cars, piers, metal pilings, and such all twisted about, so we expected to see at least some of the same in the water. We did find a 15 meter long structure, possibly the framing of one of the unfortunate buildings

Mostly we found the anchor stones for the harbor and some ropes (but none drifting high enough to foul propellers) and lots of small, low debris.

YouTube Preview Image

So, one lesson learned for future research is that we need simulation software that predicts where debris will go after a tsunami or hurricane (different versions since we believe the water behavior is different for those events).

We did not find any victims, which is bittersweet as there are so many people missing and so many families try to reach closure. Minami-sanriku had a population of 20,000 and 2,000 are dead or missing. But it is always so sad to find remains, too easy to see life cut short.

ROVs working in the rain (and snow) at Minami-sanriku-choy

SeaBotix SARbot on a trial run 4/19/11 at Minami-sanriku-choy. Courtesy of Karen Dreger, CRASAR, and NSFWe’re at Minami-sanriku-choy for the first full day of work. Yesterday we put the SeaBotix SARbot in the water in the afternoon in the light rain to conduct a general assessment of the area around the fishing pier and to show the general capabilities. Today we’re back (in the light snow), with the SARbot and the Seamor unit to conduct a coordinated sweep of the area. The Seamor has excellent sonar imaging, while the SARbot has excellent location abilities so the Seamor will spot debris or objects of interest and the SARbot will (later- they are working in separate 100m radii areas) zoom to the approximate location and get the precise location. The SARbot is also estimating the depth of debris- as the fishing boats vital to the economy need 5-10m of clearance.

We haven’t found anything particularly unexpected or dangerous to boats (or victims), but we’ve just started.

Dr. Kimura’s team has been super and we’re enjoying our collaboration!

Press Release: Japan-US team deploys underwater robots to coast

PRESS RELEASE 4/20/11

Japan-US team deploys underwater robots to coast

Points of Contact in Japan:

Dr. Fumitoshi Matsuno, matsuno@me.kyoto-u.ac.jp

Points of Contact in US:

Dr. Robin Murphy, CRASAR, murphy@cse.tamu.edu, via Kimberly Mallet

Joshua Chamot, National Science Foundation, jchamot@nsf.gov, (703) 292-7730

Tim Schnettler, Texas A&M, tschnettler@tamu.edu, 979-458-2277

Vickie Chachere, University of South Florida, (813) 974-6251

A team of research and industry experts with four state-of-the-art small underwater vehicles from the US-based Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue are working with the Japanese-based International Rescue Systems institute to inspect damaged bridges, docks, and pipelines, as well as with victim recovery. The team has initially set up in the devastated city of Minami-sanriku on April 19 and will expand into other areas throughout the week. The suitcase-sized robots have advanced imaging sonars that can penetrate the murky water that often thwarts manual divers. The use of underwater robots for disasters is fairly new and the team hopes the five day deployment will lead to the adoption of marine robots worldwide and to improvements and new research directions.

The remotely operated vehicles, called ROVs,  are extremely small versions similar to the robots used at the BP Oil Spill. They vary in size from the suitcase-sized Seamor to the tiny football-sized AC-ROV to the, making them easy to transport to the ravaged coastline north of Sendai. Three of the robots carry specialized sonars that can see through muddy water and have grippers. The SeaBotix SARbot is designed especially for emergency responders to be able to use to find victims trapped underwater in vehicles.  All of the robots have a tether to allow the operators to control the vehicles in real time and see the sonar and video camera footage.

The field team is led by Prof. Tetsuya Kimura (Nagaoka University of Technology) and  Prof. Robin Murphy (Texas A&M) with funding from the National Science Foundation. CRASAR and IRS are the leading research centers on rescue robotics, with CRASAR deploying robots to disasters worldwide including the 9/11 World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina. The US members of the team include Dr. Eric Steimle from AEOS Inc., a Florida start-up company specializing in marine environmental monitoring, Jesse Rodocker and Sean Newsome from SeaBotix, a leading manufacturer of ROVs, and Karen Dreger from the University of South Florida’s Center for Ocean Technology. The team members are donating their time and equipment through the CRASAR humanitarian Roboticists Without Borders program.

IRS and CRASAR have held many joint exercises, including one on the day of the earthquake and tsunami at the Disaster City® facilities at Texas A&M. 21 IRS researchers and students had just finished participating in field trials and workshop with CRASAR and were preparing to return to Japan when the quake struck. The IRS members were able to return home and immediately began deploying their ground robots and advising government agencies. They also invited their US colleagues at CRASAR who assembled a team of small, highly portable remotely operated vehicles.

A joint Japan-US press conference in Japan is tentatively scheduled for April 24 and photographs, video of the robots and what they are seeing, and updates will be posted to the CRASAR website daily, as internet connections permit. Videoconference interviews with team members may be possible, again depending on the situation.  Dr. Murphy and other team members will be available for follow up interviews.

SARbot making a test dive on April 19, 2011, photo courtesy of Karen Dreger, CRASAR, & NSF



CRASAR in the Field (The Eagle)

Short article in the Bryan College Station Eagle.