All posts by Dr. Robin Murphy

About the author:

avatar I am a founder of the field of rescue robotics; my personal goal is to enable emergency responders to routinely save lives through physically situated artificial intelligence (robots, sensor networks, etc.)

Ebola Robot Workshop at Texas A&M: my report out

TEEX trainer in protective gear with a "MUTT" robot carrying a litter at the workhop demo.

TEEX trainer in protective gear with a “MUTT” robot carrying a litter at the workhop demo.

CRASAR, with funding from the Center for Emergency Informatics, and the TEEX Product Development center held a two day series of workshops on robotics for medical disasters.  The major takeaway was that robots do exist that could be immediately repurposed now to protect Ebola health workers but how robots fit into the medical response enterprise is as important as what the robots can actually do. While most roboticists intuitively know that what will work in the US is not the same as what will work in West Africa, the differences go beyond physical constraints such as level floors, ample power, and reliable wireless communications infrastructure. Less intuitive is that the cultural appropriateness of the technology and the impact on the existing workflows and practices is equally important.

The workshops considered how robots could be used immediately and in future domestic medical responses. Hardened robots (and automation/CPS technologies) do exist that could be immediately repurposed to provide logistical services (e.g., packing and hauling contaminated waste) and reconnaissance (e.g. observing signs of mass graves near a village), less so for clinical applications (e.g., directly working with patients). The participants strongly concurred that a research roadmap is needed to prepare robots that the US can effectively use in future medical disasters.

The success of hardened robots in providing these services depends on ensuring that they are appropriate for the work domain in five ways:

  1.  Fit the cultural context. For example, a telepresence robot allowing a certified medical interpreter to talk with the family and talk the patient’s history may overwhelm a non-Western family who has never seen a computer. A less obtrusive telepresence solution may be more practical in that cultural context.
  2. Fit the existing workflow and practices. For the short term, solutions aren’t solutions if they require health workers or medical responders to adopt radically new procedures. They simply can’t handle more things to do or change how they perform their current tasks (which impacts how everyone performs all the other tasks- “simple” changes can have system ramifications). However, small changes that produce at least a tenfold benefit can make a difference.
  3. Can function in the target environment. For example robots in West Africa would have work reliably in field hospitals with canvas floors and narrow doors, muddy dirt roads in the rainy season, with power and wireless communications limitations, etc., while robots in the US would have more pristine conditions. Different groups use different decontamination procedures and chemicals- such as dousing everything with chlorine beach solution (easy and inexpensive) or using more chemically sophisticated decontamination foams used by urban hazardous materials teams.
  4. Are maintainable and sustainable. Health workers and medical responders won’t have the time and skills to repair robots (especially if wearing PPE) and may not have access to consumables such as batteries to enable operations for weeks and months. A problem with the Fukushima response was that many robots were actually prototypes functioning at a Technical Readiness Level of 7 rather than a well-tested Level 9 system.
  5. Are easy to use and be trained on. This is related to fitting into the existing workflow and practices, but deserves special emphasis. The health workers and responders will not have significant amounts of time to learn new tools, as their days are already overloaded and they have little personal time.  Robots must be vetted for ease of use. Effective training for medical missions is important and the role of simulation or serious games should not under-estimated.

The sentiment shared by the TAMU participants was that the biggest barrier to near-term use was not the lack of capable robots but rather the lack of requirements that would allow industry to invest in repurposing robots and  enable agencies to test and evaluate the robots and develop training.  Currently there are no details on the operational envelopment for the robot or operator. There is no clearinghouse of social science data on cultural appropriateness or bioethics or specific missions.

OVERVIEW OF WORKSHOP ACTIVITIES

The first day of the workshop was hosted by CRASAR and held at the National Center for Therapeutic Manufacturing. The day was divided into two portions. One was a simulcast of shared presentations with the other three sites and brainstorming as part of the planning workshops on Safety Robotics for Ebola Workers for the White House OSTP/National Robotic Initiative. The other part, the Texas A&M Workshop on Robotic, Automation and Cyber Physical Systems for Medical Response to Disasters, provided additional talks and discussions on general domestic medical response. The Texas A&M talks covered the state of the practice in DoD robots (TARDEC) and casualty evacuation systems (TATRC) that can be repurposed, lessons learned so far in using robots at the Fukushima Daiichi decommissioning (University of Tokyo), and opportunities for community recovery (TAMU Hazards Reduction and Recovery Center). The day culminated with a reception and a thought provoking keynote talk by Andrew Natsios (TAMU Bush School of Government and Public Policy), who served as administrator of USAID from 2001-2006.

The second day, the Infectious Disease Response Workshop,  was hosted by Caleb Holt and the TEEX Product Development Center and held at the TEEX Emergency Operations Training Center/Disaster City® complex. The focus was on the practice of medical response (one of TEEX many courses that they teach). A major portion of the day was spent in demonstrations of the current practices in medical response, walking participants through 3 modules of a field hospital (also called an Emergency Treatment Unit or ETU), showing how contaminated waste is stored and overpacked, and how domestic responders, equipment, and ambulances are decontaminated. One demonstration was not a current practice but showed how existing robots might be of use.  That demonstration showed the General Dynamics Land Systems MUTT, a robot wagon that acts like a dog and can carry waste, supplies, or one or two litters. A responder guides the robot with a leash rather than a video game controller that is hard to carry and use while wearing personal protective equipment. If the responder stops, the robot stops. If the person backs up, the robot backs up. The second day also featured panels of practitioners, including from the Texas Ebola Task Force and the USMC Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, comparing military and domestic practices

TAMU FINDINGS ON WHAT ROBOTS CAN BE USED FOR

In terms of overall medical disasters, applications appear to fall into one of three broad categories below, regrouping the preliminary list of nine functions discussed in an earlier blog. Each category has a different set of stakeholders and a different operational envelope that the robots would operate in. Clinical applications are possibly what people think of first– how robots can replace what health workers do now—but logistical applications are perhaps the most feasible and practical.

Clinical:  Clinical applications are where robots are used in the ETU as a “force multiplier” (another way of saying “reducing manpower”) by taking over some of the activities that health workers do or as adding reliability by coaching or supervising activities. Ignoring for a moment the cultural appropriateness and other adoption issues, robots could enable

  • Remote health workers to assist other health workers, such as telepresence robots (or just cameras/tablets) coaching or supervising taking off PPE– though the general consensus of our responder base was that having a second person physically helping with decon was more valuable than having someone saying “hey, you touched your face while trying to lift your hood.” Domestic hazmat responders and the USMC Chemical Biological Incident Response Forces use a two personal decontamination process.
  • Health workers could use robots to interact with patients, reducing the number of times workers have to risk exposure.  Robots could provide non-invasive point-of-care such as changing IV bags, though the TAMU participants were more reserved about roboticizing invasive procedures such as starting IV lines.
  • Remote health workers to interact with family members, such as remote qualified medical interpreters working through telepresence to help with patient intake forms.

Logistical: Logistical applications can take place within the ETU, but the construction, layout, and clutter of ETUs make it hard for mobile robots to move around. Some ETUs have canvas floors over dirt or mostly level manufactured floors, and almost all have raised areas to step over between modules that seem intended to foul wheels. The general thought is that flexible automation and materials handling are more likely to be of benefit within an ETU and that robots would be more useful for outside the ETU. Logistical robots are also interesting in terms of stakeholders. Since they are not performing clinical functions, in theory the robots could be operated by locals (assuming favorable cultural considerations).

Logistical robots could provide

  • Materials handling. Robots could reduce the number of times humans handle contaminated waste or the number of people needed to carry a litter. The robots could pack and carry materials from the warm zone to the cold zone (e.g., taking out the trash) or carry supplies into the warm zone, saving another cycle of a person having to don and doff PPE.
  • Decontamination. Robots could spray biocide foam on equipment, though there was several ideas for using gases to rapidly decontaminate ambulances so as to keep them in service.
  • Delivery and resupply. Unmanned aerial vehicles or boats could drop off small amounts of supplies to villages cut off by the rainy season.

Reconnaissance: Reconnaissance activities take place outside of the ETU. Aerostats or UAVs can provide awareness of long lines or gathering refugees. A more somber recon activity is to fly over villages and look for signs of freshly turned earth indicating graves.

Other:  The workshops also touched on preparation for medical response, such as redesigning field hospitals to make it easy to use robots and to add cameras, internet repeaters, etc. The workshops raised the value of automated construction in reducing the non-medical members of the team needed to set up and maintain the ETU.

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.

Robots and Ebola

I’ve been working since Sept 17 on robots for the Ebola epidemic– both in terms of what can be used now and what can be used for future epidemics. Dr. Taskin Padir at WPI deserves a big shout out for calling the robotics community’s attention to this, with Gill Pratt at DARPA and head of the DARPA Robotics Challenge and Richard Voyles Associate Dean at Purdue.
I am pleased to announce that CRASAR will be co-hosting a White House Office of Science and Technology Policy workshop on Safety Robotics for Ebola Workers on Nov. 7. Texas A&M was already planning a medical response workshop on the 7th for disasters in general, so expanding that to a virtual event over the internet with sessions at the White House (OSTP and DARPA), Boston (Taskin), and Berkeley (Ken Goldberg).  CRASAR is already planning to host another workshop to share the results of our current research into specific use cases with the robotics community in the Jan 3-15, 2015, timeframe.
Here on campus, students will be creating prototypes as part of the Aggies Invent event What Would You Build for a First Responder event on Oct. 24-27 and the students in my graduate AI Robotics class this semester will be designing and simulating intelligent robots.
The real issue to me is what are the real needs that robots can play in such a complex event? Here are some possibilities that have emerged in discussions and I am sure that there are many more (let me know what you think!):
  • Mortuary robots to respectfully transport the deceased, as ebola is most virulent at the time of death and immediately following death
  • Reducing the number of health professionals within the biosafety labs and field hospitals (e.g., automated materials handling, tele robotics patient care)
  • Detection of contamination (e.g., does this hospital room, ambulance or house have ebola)
  • Disinfection (e.g., robots that can open the drawers and doors for the commercially available “little Moe” disinfectant robot)
  • Telepresence robots for experts to consult/advise on medical issues, train and supervise worker decontamination to catch accidental self-contamination, and serve as “rolling interpreters” for the different languages and dialects
  • Physical security for the workers (e.g., the food riots in Sierre Leone)
  • Waste handling (e.g., where are all the biowaste from patients and worker suits going and how is it getting there?)
  • Humanitarian relief (e.g., autonomous food trucks, UAVs that can drop off food, water, medicine, but also “regular” medicine for diabetes, etc., for people who are healthy but cut off)
  • Reconnaissance (e.g., what’s happening in this village? Any signs of illness? Are people fleeing?)
In order to be successful at any one of the tasks, robots have to meet a lot of hidden requirements and sometimes the least exciting or glamorous job can be of the most help to the workers. Example hidden requirements: Can an isolated field hospital handle a heavy robot in the muddy rainy season? How will the robots be transported there? Is it easy enough for the locals to use so that they can be engaged and earn a living wage? What kind of network communication is available? What if it needs repairs? That’s what I am working on, applying the lessons learned in robotics for meteorological and geological disasters.
I am certainly not working alone and am reaching out to experts all over the world. In particular, four groups have immediately risen to the challenge and are helping.  Matt Minson MD and head of Texas Task Force 1′s medical team and Eric Rasmussen MD FACP (a retired Navy doctor) who has served as the medical director for the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue since 9/11 have offered their unique insights. There are two DoD groups:  the USMC Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (the team that cleaned up the anthrax in DC) with whom I’ve served on their technical advisory board and the Army Telemedicine & Advanced Technologies Research Center (TATRC), where Gary Gilbert MD has led highly innovative work in telemedicine and in casualty evacuation (Matt and I had a grant evaluating robotic concepts).

COA Day Oct 21st: Helping Agencies Learn About and Write COAs

On Oct 21st, CRASAR will have the first “COA Day”– a free one day hands-on workshop for agencies to help them with the COA process. CRASAR has over 20 COAs and an emergency COA for fixed and rotor craft UAS. We’ve been helping agencies on a case by case basis with the process, which has been a drain on Brittany Duncan (our fantastic graduate student and pilot in command who does the real work)– so we decided to do this as a batch process.

Contact kimberly@cse.tamu.edu for the complete flyer (which we will post soon) and the agenda. Here’s a short version:

Objectives: The purpose of this workshop is to guide fire rescue, law enforcement, and other agencies through the FAA certificate of authorization (COA) and emergency COA process needed to fly small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS).

By the end of the day, participants will:

  • Complete a COA for their system (or for a mock system) for flying in their jurisdiction
  • Become familiar with SUAS, how they have been used, hidden costs such as manpower, maintenance, and training, and issues such as privacy

Organization: The workshop sections will generally be organized as short 10-20 minute lectures by representatives from the FAA Central Service Center and CRASAR, followed by exercises where responders will work on their COAs or on mock COAs. Participants will have pre-workshop homework so that they will have the basic information for a COA on hand. Responders can ask questions and get help either in person or through chat. The preferred form of participation is to come to College Station but there will be a concurrent webinar.  Each participant who completes the workshop will receive a certificate of completion.

Free registration: Contact Kimberly@cse.tamu.edu or (979) 845-8737 by Oct. 8 for the registration materials so that we can make sure we have enough space and enough seats for the webinar.  However, we will accept on-site/day-of registration.

Who should attend: The workshop is for public agencies only, industry is not permitted at this event (we will be happy to hold a separate event through the Lone Star UASC).  No experience with SUAS or flying is required, the purpose is to serve as a complete introduction to SUAS for homeland security professionals. If you do not have a specific SUAS you are considering, we will have spec sheets on representative SUAS from CRASAR’s Roboticists Without Borders members.

 

9/11: Thoughts on the Anniversary of the WTC Disaster and First Use of Robots

I am spending the anniversary of 9/11 at the World Bank Headquarters at the World Reconstruction Conference. I was invited to give a talk on how disaster robots can be used for the recovery phase of disasters (as opposed to the search and rescue/response phase). In many ways, it was the kind of talk I had expected to give on the 13th anniversary of the first use of robots for a disaster.  I was able to proudly show  that land, sea, and aerial robots are already being used for recovery efforts. For example, the joint IRS-CRASAR team that fielded marine robots to the 2011 Japanese tsunami helped with the recovery of the region, re-opening the Minami-sanriku fishing port and finding polluting debris in the aquaculture. The decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is likely to go on for decades and robots are essential to the safe and cost-effective work.

But it was also the kind of talk that I hadn’t expected to give because 13 years after the successful use of ground robots, 10 years after marine vehicles, and 9 years after small aerial vehicles, robots still are not routinized into disasters! The responders don’t have them and as best I can tell in 36 disasters where robots have been reported to be used, the robots were borrowed in 35 cases- the agency that needed them didn’t have them.

The past 13 years have continued to show the potential, I believe the next 3 will be where we see the rapid adoption of disaster robotics.

Our respects to the victims, their families, and the responders and my thanks to the great team that John Blitch pulled together for CRASAR’s and the world’s first use of robots.

China earthquake: Drone on-site plus other ways robots can help.

YouTube Preview Image The death toll continues to rise in China’s Yunnan Province earthquake and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families, and responders.  The Chinese Army is already using drones to provide responders (as well as geologists and hydrologists) with assessment of damage in the remote, rural areas. In general, ground robots are not terribly useful in earthquakes unless there are significant building collapses where canines can smell survivors but robots are needed to crawl in spaces that responders and canines can’t get in.  Unmanned marine vehicles can be useful in help inspecting the underwater portion of bridges and rapidly determining river channels are open so that ships can bring in supplies.  So while robots are unlikely to directly save lives, they fulfill their goal of helping the responders help the survivors!

Robot used to search from Queensland miner

story here

Colorado Mudslides: UAVs and Roboticists Without Borders on standby

The Colorado mudslides appear to be the Washington state SR530 mudslide writ large (4 miles long versus 1 mile long), though thankfully with a search for three people, who could still be alive versus the 43 killed in Washington state.

rwob patch.pptxMesa County is the best place in the world to have a mudslide- Ben Miller, in the Mesa County Sheriff’s office and now director of its Unmanned Aircraft Program, has been an early adopter of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS). Under his direction, Mesa County got the first approval for an agency to fly over an entire county. His “flock” includes a Draganfly X4-ES rotorcraft (Draganfly is a Robotocists Without Borders member!) with their own version of advanced 2D/3D mosaic software that the geologists and hydrologists at SR530 found so useful. Ben also has a Gatewing and Falcon fixed-wing sUAS.

The UAS providers of the Roboticists Without Borders team (Black Swift, Draganfly, Precision Hawk, and Texas A&M) are on stand-by to assist, possibly providing a LIDAR platform and additional software.  Precision Hawk and their geospatial software, of course, were the stars of our SR530 mudslide response providing an interactive 3D reconstruction of the “moonscape” in less than 3 hours of processing time on a laptop.

Black Swift has been doing some phenomenal work that could prevent mudslides and flooding- they are developing a miniature microwave radiometer package for NASA for their sUAS that can detect soil moisture– which can determine if the soil is saturated and thus about to flood or slide. The package isn’t ready yet, but think about the implications for being proactive next spring!

The size of the mudslide raises the question of the use of multiple sUAS in a divide-and-conquer strategy. There has been a significant amount of research on this in terms of optimal path planning and general coordination. I believe the University of Colorado Boulder may hold COAs by the FAA which permit multiple platforms to be in the same area at the same time– for their storm formation studies, but I could be wrong.

Please donate to Roboticists Without Borders so that team members can continue to donate their time and equipment to help responders and accelerate the adoption of the technology.

 

Preventing disasters: small unmanned aerial vehicles for evacuation and crowd control

This month’s issue of Smithsonian Magazine has an article  “Why are people so comfortable with drones?” on  Brittany Duncan’s preliminary study for her NSF graduate fellowship research on using small UAS for evacuation and crowd. Brittany is my PhD student who recently flew the AirRobot at the SR530 mudslide response. It’s nice to see that robots are being considered for more than the immediate life-saving aspects of search and rescue. Brittany sees a near future where aerial vehicles can act as “headers” and “heelers” to guide and block people into following the right exits during an evacuation.

Soma Turkey Mine Disasters: Mine Disasters and Robots

(note: this blog was referenced by New Scientist) The horrendous number of victims at the Soma mine disaster in Turkey continues to grow. We immediately reached out to Turkish officials through Dr. Hasari Celebi at the Gebze Institute of Technology as a guiding force.  Less than a year ago I had given a keynote at a workshop on disaster robotics being held there by the government with Dr. Celebi as a key driving force.  It was clear that there was many scientists interested in applying their great ideas to earthquake response. Unfortunately it takes time and sustained investment to create a robotics capability for handling such a tragedy and the mine disaster was too soon.

Most people don’t realize that mine disasters have been to date the most common situation for ground rescue robots. As I note in Disaster Robotics out of the 28 disasters where robots have been used or on site between 2001 and 2013, 12 (42%) were underground mine incidents. Of the four disasters where robots were on-site but could not be used, 3 (75%) were underground mine disasters- showing just how much this technology is needed.
2 MSHA wolverine Underground mine disasters in coal mines are especially challenging as there may be methane to cause explosions or because the mine itself catches fire which is difficult to suppress. Mine responses are challenging based on the type of entry into the mine. Dr. Jeff Kravitz at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is the expert on robots for underground mine disasters and we co-authored an article “Mobile robots in mine rescue and recovery” in IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Magazine that summarizes the opportunities and challenges for robots based on an analysis of deployments in the US. MSHA may have the only mine permissible robot in the world (i.e., certified not to cause an explosion in a methane-rich environment)- the V-2, an Andros Wolverine shown in the photo.

 

CRASAR has assisted with two mine disasters Midas Gold Mine (2007) and Crandall Canyon (2007) and was requested to assist with two others but the technology wasn’t there. The Midas and Crandall Canyon events used smaller robots, an Inkutun Xtreme loaned from the pool at SPAWAR and a Inuktun Mine Crawler that could go down narrow boreholes. We also conducted a report for MSHA on underground rescue technologies that allowed access to their use of robots at 7 other mine disasters.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Turkish miners, their families, and the responders.