Archive for the ‘Director’s Blog’ Category

Oso Washington Mudslides– We had the UAVs there but didn’t fly

Just returned from the Oso, WA, mudslides with the Field Innovation Team (FIT) but didn’t fly due to drone privacy concerns from Snohomish county. The upside is that we now have a template for manned/unmanned airspace deconfliction and can assist others in getting emergency certificates of authorization (COAs ).

We had requests from the county to fly small UAVs first thing on Thursday but it was Friday morning before we had three assets on site: two fixed wings (the Insitu ScanEagle, Precision Hawk Lancaster) and one rotorcraft (our Air Robot 100B). All of these were provided through our Roboticists Without Borders program at no cost to the county, with Insitu and Precision Hawk diverting their teams led by Kevin Cole and Pat Lohman respectively from their current jobs.

The reason for UAVs was straightforward. Responders such as WA-TF1 and WA-TF4 working on the rescue and recovery are at great risk from even a small slide or flash flooding as the river is continuously changing and ponding as the rains continue. The site itself is gooey mud and workers would have to be evacuated by helicopters hoisting them out. The canyon is narrow with trees and thus it is hard to get complete imagery from manned assets to predict landslides or manage the flooding. Geologists are gently swarming the edges of the slides setting up sensors but there is still some visual information missing. The ScanEagle and smaller Precision Hawk are world class for geospatial reconstruction and flooding. FIT had arranged for post processing of the AirRobot quadrotor imagery with new 3D reconstruction software from Autodesk. Chief Steve Mason, West Division, talks about the potential for UAVs in this article. We also got a shout out in general.

We worked with the Engineering Branch to determine flight paths and payloads to monitor the river flooding and to get 3cm per pixel higher resolution scans of the lower slide, the cliff face where geologists where having to rope themselves off to take measurements, and the “moonscape” area of the slide currently inaccessible by foot and thus the response teams couldn’t plan how to access. The team went with the Engineering Branch out to the site to refine the missions, identify launch and recovery areas, and how to maintain constant line of sight.  Insitu had to pull out on the first day because we couldn’t find a satisfactory launch and recovery space within the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) area, which is airspace over the incident.

The need for the manned helicopters to fly at a moments notice for emergency evacuation combined with regular manned missions and the narrow canyon presented some challenges. Manned helicopters are extremely vulnerable when flying at low altitudes, and even a large bird can take them down, see the article about a near miss. That’s why a TFR is set up and it automatically bans any aircraft including UAVs operating under hobbyist rules. Everything has to be coordinated through the Air Branch of the incident.

The Air Branch instead of just saying “no” to UAVs did the opposite—they welcomed us and did a fantastic job of coordination, with Bill Quistorf helping us create a jargon-free airspace deconfliction plan that should work for just about any incident. Randy Willis and Mark Jordan at the FAA stayed on call through out the weekend working on the emergency COAs for each platform.  Chief Harper gave us a room in the Oso Community Center next to the Oso Fire Station to stage in and we were touched by the generosity and community spirit of everyone we met.

However, as the Operations Branch put in the formal request for the finalized missions and we got ready to fly late on Saturday, Snohomish County Emergency Management in Everett stepped in and blocked the request. After discussions on Sunday, the new Incident Commander Larry Nickey cancelled the missions based on concerns about privacy. The families were already worried about the media leaking photos and some were very contentious about drones. It was at that point that I recalled that Washington state has some of the most restrictive drone anti-privacy laws in the country, so there is already distrust in general.  There was no way for the Engineering Branch to determine without flying the UAVs if the data would be sufficiently better than what they were getting now and would significantly increase the safety of the responders to justify overruling the families. This just wasn’t the time to go into the chain of custody of the imagery or that these were no different than imagery than from the unmanned systems; the families in their grief can’t hear and the EOC personnel shouldn’t be distracted continuing to push for activities that make the families uncomfortable. Larry made the tough, but understandable, call to cancel the missions, but left the door open for flights after victim recovery was complete and the activity was cleanup and reopening the area.

This was the first outing of Roboticists Without Borders with FIT. FIT is lead by Desi Matel-Anderson, former Chief Innovation Advisor for FEMA, Rich Serino, former FEMA Deputy Administrator, and Tamara Palmer, former Program Specialist with FEMA’s Recovery Directorate, to help communities get innovations that they may not be aware of or know how to access. FIT staff worked to understand the needs of local officials and connect us with Autodesk.  Frank Sanborn served as the FIT coordinator for us and he and Stacy Noland get big shout outs for helping with everything from lugging gear and driving 120 miles on Sunday between Everett, the EOC, and the site to try to get the mission request unstuck.

We are disappointed that we can’t help out but our hearts and prayers go out to the families and all of the fine people working this very, very tough event.

Washington State Mudslides Highlight Challenges for Ground and Aerial Rescue Robots

All of our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, families, and responders. 

I am already being asked about how robots could be used for the horrific mudslides in Washington State. 

To the best of my knowledge, robots have been used only once for a mudslide. That was the CRASAR deployment in 2005 for the La Conchita, California, mudslides which provided unmanned ground vehicles at the request of Ventura County Fire Rescue and Los Angeles County Fire Rescue. Direct victims of mudslides and avalanches rarely have survivors because the ground and snow acts like a fluid displaying the oxygen, leading to suffocation. Victims of collateral damage have a better chance of survivor. CRASAR was called in to help search the crushed houses for missing neighbors; as detailed in Disaster Robotics, the small ground robots didn’t get far in the gooey mud. 

A major challenge for a slide or avalanche is that the robot needs to burrow through a “granular space.” Instead of going through a hole where the hole is at least as big as the robot, the robot needs to go through a space where the holes are smaller than the robot. There’s some interesting research that Dan Goldberg at Georgia Tech, Howie Choset at CMU and I have proposed on exploiting Dan’s work with robots that mimic sandfish, Howie’s miniature snakes for granular spaces but we’ve yet to hit on funding. 

Small UAVs could play a beneficial role. Certainly having the first responder on the scene driving down the road to the slide could able to get a quick overview of how far it extended. At La Conchita we had seen the possibility of small UAS dropping sensors in the slide that could be remotely monitored rather than sending geologists to periodically climb up the slide to make measurements. 

However, the pictures in the news of manned helicopters to airlift out survivors illustrates why air space coordination is a disaster remains a must and why civilians robot enthusiasts shouldn’t fly without permission, like the person filming the Harlem building collapse. The manned helicopters are working in the same under 400ft elevation that many small UAS companies advertise that their systems work in. It is important to remember that if a civilian flies in the airspace over a disaster, their AMA insurance is void (assuming they have insurance) and  regardless they may be subject to legal action. Worse yet, a manned helicopter conducting an airlift has to abort the mission if an unaccounted for vehicle enters their area of operation and thus could cost a victim their life. 

East Harlem Building Collapse: role of ground robots

It doesn’t appear that small ground rescue robots are being used to assist in the search and rescue of the terrible East Harlem building collapses-if you know of any being used please let me know. We offered our robots to DHS the same day and also New Jersey Task Force 1 and the New Jersey UASI team have small robots that they used in the 2010 Prospect Towers parking garage collapse. All of our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the 7 victims and missing- as well as to the responders working their way through this disaster.

Ground robots have been used  8 times between 2001 and 2013 for search and rescue in structural collapses- crawling underground in building collapses and mine disasters since the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse.  For building collapses shoeboxed sized robots such as the Inuktun VGTV are a popular choice because that are small and the power/communications tether serves as a belay line for lowering the robot. Ground robot have video cameras but can often be outfitted with a thermal camera. The thermal camera is useful for looking for heat signatures of possible survivors and also smoldering fires or live electrical outlets. A robot typically needs both because thermal radiation produces a fuzzy image, not always good for navigation or for structural assessment. We’ve often velcro-ed a thermal camera to a robot and run a separate tether.

Gas leaks are similar to mine explosions in that there is a worry as to whether the electronics of the robots will set off another explosion. The is referred to as whether the robot is “intrinsically safe.” There are different standards for intrinsically safe depending on the industry so that makes it harder for a robotics company to create a certified explosion proof robot.  I know of only one robot that is certified as intrinsically safe- the Mine Safety and Health Administrations very large “sumo” V2 robot, a variant of the Remotec Wolverine.

 

Structural Inspection with Unmanned Vehicles

katrina sger heli isle of capriMy book Disaster Robotics (MIT Press, Kindle, and iBook) covers structural inspection, documents 16 cases where robots have been used for structural inspection after disasters (the majority by CRASAR, but I’ve documented all cases I can find reported through April 2013) and has criteria for choosing what robot,  what the different work envelopes are,  lots of tables/figures per modality, and failure taxonomy and rates.
Here’s a quick guide to structural inspection in Disaster Robotics

- Chi1 defines structural inspection tasks versus recon and other tasks identified for disaster robotics.

- Ch2 list of robots used for what incident, formal failure taxonomy; this gives an overview of the 16 cases where robots have been used for structural inspection

- Ch3 use of ground robots for structural inspection, environments/work envelopes, describes the 5 cases where UGVs used for structural inspection, formulas for how to size a robot for an inspection task and a set of design spaces, gaps

- Ch4 use of UAVs for structural inspection, environments/work envelopes, describes the 7 cases where UAVs have been used for structural inspection, choice of rotorcraft versus fixed wing, conops,  human-robot ratio and safety, issues with lots of GPS,  gaps

- Ch5 use of marine vehicles for structural inspection, environments/work envelopes, describes the 4 cases where UMVs have been used for structural inspection, the need to inspect upstream not just the bridge substructure,  choice of AUV, ROV, UMV, gaps

- Ch6 how to conduct fieldwork and data analysis, using structural inspection as an example

FIRST(r) LEGO(r) League (FLL(r)) Nature’s Fury(sm) Challenge: International experts are ready to answer your questions and provide feedback

FLLicon_RGB Natures Fury Logo SM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volunteers from the IEEE Technical Committee on Safety Security and Rescue Robotics are available to answer  your questions and provide feedback on your challenge projects! They are listed below, please contact them directly. Please don’t post to the comments section- it won’t necessarily get to the right expert!

Austria

Prof. Gerald Steinbauer <steinbauer AT ist.tugraz.at>, Graz University of Technology, is an expert in robot navigation

Canada

Dr. Ahmad Byagowi <ahmadexp AT gmail.com>, University of Manitoba, is an expert on humanoid robotics

Prof. Alexander Ferworn <aferworn AT gmail.com>, Ryerson University, is an expert on human-canine-robot teams

United States

Prof. Julie A. Adams <julie.a.adams AT vanderbilt.edu>, Vanderbilt University, is an expert on human-robot interaction

Prof. Howie Choset <choset AT cs.cmu.edu>, Carnegie Mellon University, is an expert on snake robotics and navigation

Justin Manzo <manzo_justin AT bah.com>, Booz Allan and Hamilton, a robotics practitioner assisting with the DARPA Robotics Challenge

Prof. Robin Murphy <murphy AT cse.tamu.edu>; Texas A&M, is an expert on deploying land, sea, and aerial robots and is willing to host demos

Brian O’Neil <aviator79 AT gmail.com>, a researcher near Los Alamos, NM, who has worked with FIRST teams before

Debra Schreckenghost <schreck AT traclabs.com>; TRAClabs is one of the teams in the DARPA Robotics Challenge and willing to host demos

Prof. Dylan Shell <dylan.shell AT gmail.com>; Texas A&M, is an expert on multiple robots

Phillippines: Yolanda and robots

The death toll appears to be horrific in the wake of the Super Typhoon Yolanda– we are getting inquiries as to assistance. Our thoughts and prayers go out the victims and their families.

UAVs, if on site, can provide immediate damage assessment and locate pockets of trapped survivors as well as the best transportation routes. However, if manned aircraft are available, coordination of airspace may be difficult and manned assets will generally wave off if they see an unknown UAV no matter how low or small in the area they are working in.

UMVs– water based robots- may be of great help for searching for submerged victims and determining the state of bridges, seawalls, polluting debris, etc. While this does not help with life saving, it can enormous economic impact. Initially, ROVs and unmanned surface vehicles (boats) have advantages over AUVs (underwater robots)– AUVs can’t detect the debris in the water, whereas ROVs are on a tether and USVs work on the surface. We used ROVs for the Japanese Tohoku tsunami with our partners at the International Rescue Systems Institute and greatly speed up the reopening of a key fishing port.

 

 

Nature’s Fury: CRASAR is Helping Coordinate Rescue Roboticists for the FIRST Lego League Competition

The amazing FIRST Robotics Competition Lego League is on disasters this year! Over a dozen rescue roboticists are joining me in providing expert interviews and robotics advice to the middle schoolers participating internationally. CRASAR is also working the Dr. Michael Johnson of the Center for Emergency Informatics to provide awards and educational materials for teachers and parents. CRASAR will be at the DARPA Robotics Challenge with robots used at disasters and experts for the kids to see and interact with. More to come!

September 11: 11 years after the first use of rescue robots

It is always difficult to write about 9/11 and the World Trade Center disaster, as the horror of the event still lingers in my mind.

For the first years after 9/11, I had little to report on the year in disaster robotics as adoption has been slow. But since 2010, the number of incidents that are using robots and using them quickly are rising, with 2011 being a major year with robots at the Christchurch and Tohoku earthquakes. Robots have been used in 35 disasters internationally, with ground robots being used most frequently from mine and building collapses, but UAVs and marine vehicles increasing in use as well. A Draganflyer UAV was credited with a live save of an injured and disoriented driver who had gotten out of his car in the cold of Canada, so that was a breakthrough this year- finally a rescue robot has saved a life.

Besides land, sea, and aerial robots are being used more frequently, another heartening trend is the emerging meme that robots can be used for prevention and preparedness of disasters, not just for response and recovery. Indeed the attendees of the  2012 IEEE International Conference on Safety Security and Rescue Robotics constructed a roadmap emphasizing this point, noting that this helps reduce the cost of the robots- if you use it every day for port security, for routine infrastructure inspection, you are likely to use it for the non-routine tasks as well.

But in the end, everyone here has the deepest condolences for the families of the victims and of the responders to 9/11. It was an honor to be there and to assist in a small way so that we can assist better in the future.

White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Brainstorming

A big shout out for the FEMA Think Tank team for their White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Brainstorming session. The focus was primarily on citizen to citizen informatics for relief, but one of the 10  “winning” topics was something that researchers here have been working on: crowd sourcing imagery. James Caverlee and John Mander as part of the Center for Emergency Informatics, our “mother” center, have been exploring what it takes to understand the state of damage from a civil engineering perspective with funding from NSF.

Just a note that robotics generally provide public sector to public sector informatics (deployed by an agency, data is used by an agency) that is mostly used for response and recovery, versus relief efforts.  Robots, especially UAVs, could contribute to the crowd sourcing of imagery, so even though robotics wasn’t one of the top 10 ideas, it was hidden in there!

CRASAR and RWB Featured in TIME Rise of the Robots special issue!

Check out the TIME Magazine special edition “Rise of the Robots”! Daniel Cray started out interviewing us as a sidebar and then wrote a larger article “Search Engines” about rescue robotics in general as well as “Rescue Robots to Borrow” which was about CRASAR and Roboticists Without Borders. Both are great intros to rescue robotics, starting with Jim Bastan at NJ-TF1 which is the only US&R team in the US with robots. The pictures are all ground robots, so please don’t forget about the UAVs and UMVs (marine vehicles).