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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 to contribute to new Ebola-fighting efforts

As fears continue to grow over the recent outbreak of Ebola, scientists and researchers in the U.S. are hoping to develop a strategy for combating the virus’ spread through the use of robots and autonomous vehicles. November 7th will see workshops put together by the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue that brings robotocists together with members of the medical and humanitarian aid communities to hopefully find a solution.

The initial idea is that depending on the situation, robots can be used as mobile interpreters, methods of delivery for much-needed supplies such as medicine and food, and even during the most dangerous of tasks like decontamination or burying deceased victims. “What are the things robotics can do to help?” poses Robin Murphy, a robotics professor at Texas A&M University, as well as the director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue. One idea put forward by a robotics engineer is to take a wheeled robot and attach two decontamination sprayers, and then have it work in places where the virus has been found, or on cleaning equipment.

What is being stressed leading up to the workshops is that robots are not act as full replacements for human aid workers. The goal is to minimize workers’ contact, but for every piece of technology put to use, there should still be a human to interact with.

For more information, visit slasher.com

Snake Bots to the Rescue

There have been many nature-inspired gadgets and devices. This method is called biomimicry or biomimemtics. You have products like shark skin which inspired swim suits and submarine coatings; Velcro, the hook and loop fastener that was inspired by plant burrs that stick to dog hair and a new adhesive inspired by Geckos. Now, snakes have inspired the creation of a robot that will mimic its actions and can move through tiny holes.

It is said that the snake robot has been in use since 2008, but these were early prototypes, since which many alterations have been made in different models. The most famous is Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) research and snake bot models. Georgia Tech University students have also developed search and rescue snake robots in 2012.

Recently researchers from Carnegie Mellon and Georgia Tech headed to Zoo Atlanta, to observe rattlesnakes. After over 50 trials, these snake movements were measured and tracked through cameras. “The snakes tended to increase the amount of body contact with the surface at any instant in time when they were sidewinding up the slope and the incline angle increased,” said Daniel Goldman, co-author of the study and an associate professor of biomechanics at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

These researchers also got in touch with Howie Choset, a professor at The Robotics Institute at CMU. Prof Howie has been working on developing limbless snake bots that can move through small spaces. The professor said these robotic sidewinding abilities could come in handy in archaeological sites. For instance, the robots could be used to explore the insides of pyramids or tombs. They could also help in search and rescue missions, as they are capable of moving in small and cramped spaces.

Check out more information at newindianexpress.com

Local students testing the water for robot rescues

Highvale’s Scott Nicholson and Albany Creek’s Jaynesh Vanmali are part of a Queensland University of Technology team taking the Maritime RobotX Challenge.

The competition is designed to increase the autonomy of robotic boats so they could perform real-world tasks in real-world environments, including searching for debris or oil slicks or finding overboard mariners in rough seas.

Running from 20-26 October, the Maritime RobotX Challenge involves 14 teams from universities in Australia, Singapore, Japan, USA and South Korea.

“Teams are judged on how competent their boat is at completing tasks,” Mr Vanmali said. “There are five tasks in total and each of them assess the boat’s ability in docking, navigation, obstacle avoidance and search and rescue.”

Check out more information at the westerner.com

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).

Snake Robots: Slithering Machines Could Help Search & Rescue Missions

Meet the sidewinder rattlesnake robot! This motorized serpent can actually move across sandy surfaces, both flat and inclined, an exploit that has escaped engineers so far.

Recently, the team of Georgia tech researchers has portrayed for the first time how sidewinder rattlesnakes also known as Crotalus Cerastes, move across a challenging sandy mound. The study is published in the ‘Science’ journal.

“We observed snakes on an artificial mound, finding that the snakes often flatten themselves on the steeper slopes to increase their contact with the sand,” researchers stated. Dr. Daniel Goldman, senior author, who runs a biomechanics lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told BBC, “The most striking thing for us was how nice these animals are as subjects, they lean to just sidewind on command.”

Check out more information at capitalwired.com

These Rubbery Robots Use Explosions to Jump

Scientists recently demonstrated that a soft robot could crawl like a starfish through fire, over snow, and even after being run over by a car, all without the constraints of a tether. To control the bot, scientists used air pumps that force bursts of air in and out of a series of pneumatic channels running through its limbs.

Air compressors are rather slow, taking on the order of seconds to work. So, rather than rely on compressed air, scientists have investigated the idea of using explosions to propel rubbery bots. Roboticist Michael Tolley at Harvard University and his colleagues now have revealed an untethered soft robot that uses internal combustion to jump. “I think this type of system might be useful for navigating rough terrain or unknown environments for things like search-and-rescue, or even space exploration,” Tolley says.

The three-legged silicone robot stands about 3 inches tall, 12 inches wide, and weighs a little more than a pound. It has an air pump that bends its legs to control the direction of its jumps and an explosion-driven piston in its center that propels it upward. Its round center holds the 9-volt battery for the air pump, liquid butane fuel for the piston, and electronics to provide the sparks for the explosions.

Tolley’s bot can jump nearly 2 feet horizontally or vertically. That leaping ability could allow it to cross uneven, expanding its range across uneven terrain and making the bot more useful for search-and-rescue operations. The device’s squishiness makes it easier for it to land. And the use of butane fuel delivers power and flexibility.

Check out more information at popularmechanics.com

2014 China Robot Contest to Kick off in October

Starting October 10, the 2014 China Robot Contest and RoboCup Open will be taking place in Hefei, capital of East China’s Anhui province, the local government said at a press conference on Monday.

As of September 29, 2,920 competitors from 185 colleges including Tsinghua University and Peking University have registered for the contest, according to the municipal bureau of science and technology.

The annual event is seen as the most recognized and authoritative competition for robots in China. In its 15th year, it is slated to be held in Anhui International Exhibition Center from October 10 to October 12.

For more information, check out english.anhuinews.com

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.

 

NASA tech finds disaster survivors

Each time your heart beats, your entire body moves — even if you’re unconscious and pinned under a pile of rubble. The vibrations are small, invisible to the human eye, and might just save your life after a major disaster.

Researchers at NASA have developed a device that picks up these subtle movements through up to 40 feet of debris. Called FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response), the tool was developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to help rescue crews find survivors quickly in a major disaster.

After a disaster, there’s a limited window of time to find trapped survivors. FINDER makes the process more efficient. It uses a low power radio signal to detect motion. Each movement caused by a heartbeat is like a “twinkle” reflecting back to the radar. What makes the system especially smart is software that can cut through all other movements and pinpoint which vibrations are signs of life. The system looks just for the signals that match human heartbeats, filtering out slower movements like tree branches in the wind, and faster ones like the heartbeat of a rat.

It takes about five minutes to learn how to use FINDER and just a few minutes to set up. The device fits into a case small enough to carry on a plane. Hit the “Search” button and 30 seconds later a Web page appears on the FINDER laptop, which shows how many heartbeats it’s found in a 100 foot radius.

Check out more information at cnn.com