Frequently Asked Questions about Roboticists Without Borders

There has been significant interest in CRASAR’s Roboticists Without Borders program from potential members and from agencies. I’ve created a FAQ to the most commonly asked questions and added it to the RWB webpage. I’ll reproduce it here to make it easy to see in one place. If you have more questions, please ask!

Q. Doesn’t RWB compete with companies who make robots or undermine their market?

No! The point is that every response and recovery agency should have robots- but they don’t. RWB facilitates humanitarian use of robots, but also helps promotes robots and encourages adoption. Do the Doctors Without Borders compete with local doctors? No, because there aren’t any doctors where they go. Should there have been more doctors there? Absolutely. Same idea with robots.

Q. Who can join?

Anyone from anywhere can join to contribute equipment, expertise, or donations (or any combination!) using the standard membership form.

Agencies or other potential “users” can create a memorandum of understanding, add CRASAR to their vendor list, or otherwise set up a partnership as governed by their rules- there is no standard form because each agency is different.

Q. How much does it cost to join?

Nothing. But you do have to pay your way each year to a training event and make sure your robot has completed the applicable NIST standards.

Q. If my company or university joins, how often can we expect to go to disasters?

It depends. There is no guarantee that your technology or expertise will be called upon or that you will available if it is. There were 8 deployments of robots in 2010 to 7 incidents and many types of robots were used so we expect the trend to accelerate.

Q. Can my agency or institution create agreements with CRASAR in advance?

Yes, please. When CRASAR was at the University of South Florida, there was a memorandum of understanding with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue that allows CRASAR to be requested and reimbursed as part of the state response system.

Q. How is RWB funded?

RWB is funded by donations, by research grants to CRASAR (when applicable), research overhead from grants. A deployment will either draw from those reserves or be reimbursed by the requesting agency. While we clearly prefer to be reimbursed, CRASAR can generally cover travel costs so that agencies that are skeptical of robots have no financial disincentive to issue an invitation.

Because robots are new and disasters are possibly the most challenging application for robots, many of our members have grants that allow them to go to disasters- the way earthquake engineers  do. Plus the National Science Foundation has Rapid Response Research grants that we can apply for. CRASAR has been generally successful in getting these grants- one was for using UAVs to assess damage to buildings from Hurricane Katrina and the human-robot interaction model that resulted was used by the UAV team at Fukushima.

Q. What is the relationship between CRASAR and RWB?

CRASAR is the center that is responsible for RWB. CRASAR does more than RWB but RWB is a major activity.

Q. CRASAR has an equipment cache, does that mean those robots are the best or will be used first for a disaster?

CRASAR maintains a cache of robots for research that can also be used for deployments. Because these robots must support research, which not all commercial systems do, AND because every disaster is different, the CRASAR cache does not necessarily represent the best match for every incident. It is hoped that the RWB membership will have the best match.

Q. Who/how decides what RWB equipment or members participate in a disaster?

Technically, the buck stops with the director. But generally as soon as a disaster happens, the land, aerial, and marine leads will begin assessing the needs and making recommendations and contacting members to see what they think and what’s available and it generally converges quickly to a consensus. The CRASAR Advisory Board reviews the recommended deployment plan.

Q. Can my agency request RWB participation in an incident (smaller than a disaster) ?

Yes. Members typically welcome the opportunity to work directly with users and get their feedback.

Q. Can my agency request RWB participation in an exercise?

Yes, please! CRASAR offers 2- and 4-hour hands-on awareness classes and a 10 hour operator class to introduce groups to rescue robotics. We will often provide a class and robots at no expense in return for being able to collect data from the responders as they use the robots in their exercise. We’ve trained over 400 responders and emergency managers to date.

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