Archive for January, 2016

CRASAR donates 2 E.M.I.L.Y.s to Hellenic Coast Guard and Red Cross

On January 14, 2016, the Roboticists Without Borders program hosted by the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) donated an E.M.I.L.Y. lifeguard robot to the Hellenic Coast Guard working on Lesvos Island, Greece. The Coast Guard completed training with E.M.I.L.Y. on Jan 17, 2016. Cutter 618 under Captain Nicholas took her on her first mission that afternoon for the 4:00 pm – 12 pm patrol of the straights.  On January 18, 2016, the program donated the second E.M.I.L.Y. to the Hellenic Red Cross. CRASAR has been assisting the Hellenic Red Cross and ProActiva lifeguarding teams (see http://crasar.org/?p=1980 for details and video).

 

This reflects an evolution in robotics, both in cost and usability, and a new era for CRASAR of donating robots. When CRASAR was first established, small land and marine robots were prohibitively expensive, costing between $35K and $400K and often unreliable with less than 20 hours between failures. Small aerial systems had not been invented. Independently of cost, there was a second barrier: robots required experienced operators with many days, if not weeks, of training, especially on maintenance. Therefore it was important for CRASAR to not only provide robots but provide experts who could effectively work side-by-side with the responders in disaster conditions. It wasn’t feasible to just hand the technology to responders in the Cold Zone and wave bye-bye.  Now robots are coming down in price plus are much easier and intuitive to operate and maintain and are more reliable. Thus with robots such as E.M.I.L.Y., it is possible to train the responders in the field and let them use it directly without having to incur the  distraction, logistics, and liability of embedding an outsider.

 

Our mission is to speed adoption and assist responders, not be responders, and it is gratifying to see the technology reach a point where this is becoming possible. One thing hasn’t changed since 2001 and that is the generosity of our Roboticists Without Borders members. Hydronalix CEO Anthony Mulligan donated 2 E.M.I.L.Y.s, plus travel and expenses for himself and the two operators/trainers. He deserves many kudos for his big heart and commitment!

 

Here are pictures of the EMILY with the crew of Cutter 618:

 

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Here are pictures with the Hellenic Red Cross team:

 

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EMILY fills “The Gap” between lifeguards in boats and on shore to help 4 boats with 200 refugees arrive safely

On Friday morning Jan 15, 2016,  team member Chief Fernando Boiteux (on vacation from his position as head of lifeguards for LA County Fire Department) deployed EMILY  along the northern shore of Lesvos finding a unique ecological niche for her: in the 100 meter “gap” between the beach and where it is deep enough for lifeguard boats to go.

“The Gap” represents a type of no-mans land for lifeguards. It’s the area that the deeper water patrol boats (such as the Hellenic Coast Guard cutters use in the channel between Turkey and Greece and the smaller rigid hull inflatable boats used by NGOs)  cannot enter due to draft restrictions but is too far out for lifeguards on shore to wade and has to be approached by a swimming lifeguard.  If the boat capsizes, people fall or misjudge the depth and jump off, or the boat runs aground, the lifeguards in patrol boats are not in position to help.  The lifeguards on land have to swim floatation devices out, taking valuable time and risking panicking people trying to climb on their heads.

Another challenge posed by “The Gap” is what happens when multiple boats arrive. Lifeguards on shore have to split their attention and may lose situation awareness of what is going on, especially in behind boats or sides that are blocked from view.

 

EMILY was able to fill the gap on Thursday by being able to work in the shallow water gap and to provide situation awareness with her cameras for the Hellenic Red Cross and PROACTIVA lifeguard teams on land who worked tirelessly as nearly a dozen boats arrived at first light along the rocky shore. Once on shore, other NGOs get the refugees to shelter.

 

This video show EMILY in The Gap and how she gives the lifeguards the ability to keep an eye on multiple boats. Note that 1 EMILY enabled 1 lifeguard to watch multiple boats and maintain general situation awareness.

 

We are still short of actual travel costs, so please consider donating at https://www.gofundme.com/Friends-of-CRASAR

CRASAR deployed to Greece to assist in rescuing drowning refugees Update 1/12/16

CRASAR and Roboticists Without Borders members are on Lesvos on day 2 of a 10 day deployment to Greece to assist the local Coast Guard and lifeguard organizations in rescuing refugees from drowning. As you may know over 300 refugees have drowned, with 34 bodies found on Jan. 5, seven of which were children. We are deploying two types of robots: the EMILY marine vehicle that is used worldwide to assist lifeguards, a Fotokite, plus ruggedized Sonim phones from our Texas A&M sister center, the Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center. This is my 21st disaster and I’ve never seen such a diversity of NGOs working so well together and such a compassionate local population. It is an honor to think that we could provide them with useful tools to do their amazing and heartbreaking work. As you see in the video below, think of EMILY as a combination of a large life preserver with a battery powered miniature jet ski that a lifeguard can radio control.  Based on prior use and talking with the PROEM-AID and PROACTIVA lifeguard teams here, we have identified 4 possible uses for her- 2 of which are standard operating procedures but 2 are new challenges posed by the unique situation here. The lessons learned here would be applicable to other marine catastrophes such as the cruise ships or ferries sinking.

Possible Use 1: Getting floatation to victims then pulling them to the rescue boat or shore

This is a standard use of EMILY. As illustrated in the above video, we demonstrated the EMILY robot to the PROEM-AID lifeguard team from Spain- two of whom are shown here as victims hanging on. 5 or more people can hang on. In rescues from a life boat (versus the shore), EMILY zooms out with a line because lifeguards can pull her back loaded with people faster than she jet-ski back. Plus it is much less scary for victims to have that wallowing sounds, wake, and vibration.

In this video, Chief Fernando Boiteux of the CRASAR  team (in blue) demonstrated using a smartphone to view EMILY’s onboard camera, which can switch between visible light and infrared. A member of the PROACTIVA lifeguard team (red, black)-  is shown driving EMILY. The lifeguard can direct EMILY to victims out of easy range of sight by using EMILY’s onboard camera.

One area that we hope to collect data on is the use of thermal imagery to help the lifeguard see the victims at night and in high waves. (And our students will be working on algorithms to exploit this new sensor to make EMILY smarter.)

EMILY eye view of Skala Sykaminia

EMILY eye view of Skala Sykaminia

FLIR sensor view of Skala harbor (same sensor that is on EMILY)

FLIR sensor view of Skala harbor (same sensor that is on EMILY)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Possible Use 2: Bringing a line to boat in trouble

It’s straightforward to send EMILY out to a boat in trouble, tell the people to unclip the line (yes, EMILY has two-way audio) and tie it to their boats. EMILY does this a lot in the Pacific Northwest where kayakers get pummeled by waves on the rocky shore and the rescue boat can’t get close enough. Once the line is on the kayaker, the rescue boat hauls it off the rocks while EMILY zooms back out of the way. This may be very useful at Lesvos because parts of the shore are treacherous.

Possible Use 3: “Follow Me”

Given that EMILY has two-way audio, goes 20 MPH, and a long radio-control range (plus the spiffy flag for visibility), PROACTIVE lifeguards envisioned that when a boat that was heading to a bad location, they could use EMILY to guide whoever was piloting the boat to the better beach.

Possible Use 4: Divide and Conquer

The refugee crossings present a new scenario- how to handle a large number of people in the water. Some may be in different levels of distress, elderly or children, or unconscious. One solution is to use EMILY to go to the people who are still able to grab on, while the lifeguards swim to aid the people who need special professional attention. Chief John Sims from Rural/Metro Fire Department, Pima, (our 4th team member) is anticipating situations where rescuers can concentrate on saving children and unconscious victims while sending EMILY to the conscious and responsive people. We are also going to experiment with the Fotokite, which is NOT considered a UAV by aviation agencies. It is a tethered aerial camera originally developed for safe and easy photo journalism- specifically because tethered aircraft like balloons and kites under certain altitudes are not regulated. I was immediately impressed when I saw it at DroneApps last year. It’s both a solid technology and it can be used where small unmanned aerial systems cannot be used since the flying camera is tethered. One challenge that the lifeguards have is seeing exactly what the situation is and who is in what kind of distress. That could be magnified in the chaos of a capsized boat. Even a 10 or 20 foot view could help rescuers see over the waves and better prioritize their lifesaving actions. I am delighted that Sergei Lupashin and his team scrambled over the holidays to get us one.

Other Notes

We expect to primarily deploy from lifeguard boats that go out to the refugees boats but perhaps from the beach as well. Note that EMILY doesn’t replace a responder, it is one more tool that they can use. It is a mature technology that helped responders save lives since 2012 (see https://lifesaving.com/node/2815). I first saw a prototype in 2010 and Tony Mulligan, creator and CEO of Hydronalix, and Chief Fernando Boiteux from the LA County Fire Department brought EMILY to our Summer Institute on Flooding in 2015- and they are deploying. Chief Boiteux is using his vacation days to come and serve as an expert operator. This is another case of proven mature robot technology that exists but is not getting the attention and adoption it deserves. I hate to make too much of a big deal about our deployment as we still haven’t done anything yet. And it’s not about us, but about helping the selfless work that the Hellenic Coast Guard and NGOs are doing and have been doing through sun and storm, hot and cold. However, this deployment is being funded out of pocket. Even with Roushan Zenooz and Hydronalix donating partial travel costs and Fotokite donating a platform, we are still short. So please consider donating at https://www.gofundme.com/Friends-of-CRASAR to cover the remaining costs (we couldn’t wait any longer). Once we can establish the utility of EMILY, we also hope to raise enough additional money to leave an EMILY (or multiple ones) behind.