Archive for the ‘Press Releases’ Category

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.


(Updated with video) Flew UAS at SR-530 Mudslide

AirRobot flying moonscape at SR-530 mudslide April 23, 2014

AirRobot flying moonscape at SR-530 mudslide April 23, 2014

Roboticists Without Borders returned with member FIT to Washington state with platforms from CRASAR and PrecisionHawk members to order to help determine the eminent risk of loss of life to responders, as they continued to work downslope of a potential secondary mudslide or a breach in the river. Many people assume that disaster robots are just for immediate search and rescue of survivors, but this is one of many examples of where robots can protect the responders.

Our missions were collecting data for the geologists and hydrologists from the “moonscape” and toe of the river where it was impossible to manually survey due to the flooding and quicksand-like mud and couldn’t be surveyed from manned helicopters or see from remote satellite sensing due to the higher altitudes and less favorable viewing angles. These areas are next to the cliff face of the mudslide and not in the victim recovery area.

We flew the AirRobot 100B platform under an emergency COA from the FAA on April 23  but the high winds in the narrow canyon prevented us from flying on the 24th. The PrecisionHawk was not granted an emergency COA, but we used the PrecisionHawk software to do 2D tiling of imagery and to create interactive 3D reconstructions which I will post soon (it’s finals here at Texas A&M). Brittany Duncan and I collected about 33GB of data in 48 minutes of flight time covering 30-40 acres with the CRASAR AirRobot and then about 3 hours of post processing on a laptop by the PrecisionHawk team (Tyler Collins and Justin Kendrick). Getting this type of data for ESF#3 and ESF#9 functions often takes days– now it can be done by them on demand.  This is revolutionary!

FIT has a press release here and I’ll be posting photos and snippets. Big shout out to FIT who helped support the mission with both personnel on-site (Frank Sanborn and Tamara Palmer) and with partial funding.

Speaking of funding– our deployment war chest is empty. CRASAR pays for travel, PPE,  etc. whenever possible for our volunteers, breakage and software upgrades, and this drained the last of our funds. We’re setting up online donations so that you  can join RWB as a funding provider and donate to the cause!

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Murphy Offers Suggestions to Japanese Government for Faster International Deployments of Rescue Robots (press release)

Dr. Robin Murphy, a pioneer in the area of rescue robotics, spoke to the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) Dec. 11 in Tokyo.

Murphy directs the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue in the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and is the Raytheon Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University.

NEDO is a new Japanese agency focusing on increasing Japan’s industrial competitiveness. The agency is considering creating an international rescue robot team for disasters. Murphy provided a unique perspective as the leader in robot deployments, having participated 15 disasters including the World Trade Center collapse, Hurricanes Charley and Katrina, and Fukushima Daiichi.

“Life saving activities are effectively over after three days,” Murphy said, “but robots aren’t being used on average until four days after the disaster — too late to make a difference.”

In the case of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear event, suitable Japanese and U.S. robots were already in Japan and could have been used immediately, but due to a lack of information, trust in the robots, and other concerns, the first aerial and ground robots were not used until a month after the event.

Money has not been the barrier, Murphy said. She described how companies have consistently donated robots and experts with no charge for disasters the through the CRASAR Roboticists Without Borders program.

Murphy made three recommendations. First, the U.S. and Japan should work together to establish relationships between countries and agencies in order to improve the understanding of rescue robots and to enable rapid deployment. Second, governments should provide funding for transportation, logistics, and preparatory activities such as training and vetting robots. Third, there should be clear mechanisms to provide feedback to the robotics industry and to research so they can continue to improve designs. For more on the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue visit

TEES is an engineering research agency of the State of Texas and a member of The Texas A&M University System.

Contact Dr. Robin Murphy,, 979.845.8737

Researchers and Responders to Jointly Develop UAV Visual Common Ground

Researchers and responders from The Texas A&M University System have received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create a visual “common ground” between operators and responders who use micro and small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for search and rescue.

Following principles in how people know what other people are talking about in conversations, visual common ground will allow responders to easily express where they want the UAV to fly and what angle to examine collapsed structures using an iPad or other tablet. The responders would also be able to review imagery and video while the UAV continues its mission rather than wait for the UAV to land.

Response professionals from the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) Disaster Preparedness and Response Division (DPR) will fly weekly at Disaster City® with researchers from the Texas Engineering Experiment Station’s (TEES) Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR), speeding the development and refinement of the natural user interface.

Disaster City® is a 52-acre facility designed featuring full-scale collapsible structures that replicate community infrastructure. The site includes simulations of a strip mall, office building, industrial complex, assembly hall/theater, single-family dwelling, train derailments, three active rubble piles and a small lake.

The grant is the first direct partnering of emergency responders with university professors/researchers for UAV research. Bob McKee, DPR director and agency chief for Texas Task Force 1, serves as a principal investigator with Dr. Robin Murphy, Texas A&M University professor and CRASAR director. The partnership leverages the capabilities of top academic researchers and the preparedness and response expertise of TEEX, all existing within the A&M System.

“Being able to work directly and routinely with responders under conditions as near to a real disaster as one can get will allow the research to progress faster. This could only happen at Texas A&M,” Murphy said. “Normally we’d have to try to condense a year of work into one week of trials, and if something went wrong we’d have to wait months for another opportunity for responders or a demolished building to become available.”

McKee said, “TEEX has been actively involved in efforts to develop and adapt robots for search and rescue applications. Though working with the National Institute for Standards and Technology project to develop standard test methods for emergency response robots to collaborating with scientific researchers and commercial developers at our unique Disaster City® facility, we’re hoping to someday use small UAVs and other unmanned systems to help save lives.”
The grant will help enable emergency responders to take advantage of small “personal” UAVs being developed for the U.S. Department of Defense. Urban search and rescue operations can be more challenging than military peacekeeping operations as they can require assessment and analysis of damaged structures, hazardous areas, and other unique situations.


The idea for creating shared displays is a result of over a decade of research on rescue robotics by Murphy, who was recently named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company magazine. She has led UAV deployments at numerous disasters starting with Hurricane Katrina. Her work with Dr. Jenny Burke (a former graduate student currently with Boeing), based on CRASAR experiences with ground robots at the World Trade Center, showed that search and rescue specialists were nine times more effective if two responders—not one—worked together using a shared visual display.

The team expects to have an open source tablet interface for AirRobot and Dragan UAVs within 24 months that leads to a significant, measurable improvement in team performance as well as high user acceptance.


Contact for TEEX: Brian Blake (O) 979-458-6837 (C) 979-324-8995

Contact for TEES: Pam Green (O) 979-845-5510 (C) 979-574-4138

IRS-CRASAR team finalist for Best Paper SSRR 2011

The IRS-CRASAR paper on our April deployment to Japan was a finalist for best paper at the IEEE Safety Security Rescue Robot conference, which met this week in Kyoto. The work by the Japanese team that produced the QUINCE robot used at Fukushima deservedly won- but it was a great honor to be a finalist!  The paper is Use of Remotely Operated Marine Vehicles at Minamisanriku and Rikuzentakata Japan for Disaster Recovery by R. Murphy, K. Dreger, S. Newsome, J. Rodocker, E. Steimle. T. Kimura, K. Makabe, F. Matsuno, S.Tadokoro, and K. Kon. Congratulations all! The paper should be available from download from IEEE Xplore shortly.

Hurricane Irene: hope it’s not 7.5 days after landfall that robots get deployed

The Roboticists Without Borders members are standing by to assist with Hurricane Irene at no cost.

We’ve been pinging our contacts in the response and emergency management communities to remind them about the uses of robots. I recently presented a paper at AUVSI that analyzed the 8 known deployments of robots at 7 disasters in 2010– if the incident command agency or company already had robots or an agreement in place, robots were used with 0.5 days. If not, it was an average of 7.5 days before the robots were used (land, marine, or air– that wasn’t a factor), well beyond the critical life saving first few days. 10 years after the successful use at 9/11, robots still haven’t been integrated into responses.

For a hurricane, as with a small earthquake or tornado, UAVs and marine vehicles tend to be of more immediate and impact larger regions than ground robots. That’s because there is usually little damage to large numbers of commercial buildings- instead homes are devastated. But homes create debris fields less than 3m deep, which canines and existing tools work great with and faster than small ground robots. State National Guard teams often fly Predators, but don’t rule out the value of small UAVs hand launched by response teams to get on demand “hummingbird” views of the situation.

New Jersey has two UASI teams with ground robots and I’ve heard they’ve been looking at small UAVs, but I don’t know of any other response agencies in the projected area with rescue robots. Please let me know if there are (we’ll mail you a CRASAR patch for confirmed info).

But regardless, my thoughts on Hurricane Irene  comes down to this: I hope that no lives will be lost and damage will be minimal.

CRASAR on CNN with Randi Kaye at 12:45 Central (Aug. 11)

June 22: Robo Virtual Summit on Mobile Robots for Emergency Response

The Robo Virtual Summit this summer was to be on navigation and autonomy but now has shifted to Mobile Robots for Emergency Response, with people such as Bob Quinn talking about the QinetiQ robots and Tim Trainer about the iRobot bots at Fukushima- these are guys with their boots on the ground. Other good talks as well. I will be giving one of the talks (actually it was taped last week) in the afternoon and be available for questions. Check it out!

Presentation at the Preliminary Report on the Disaster and Robotics in Japan: Special Forum at ICRA 2011

forum position.pptx is the presentation I gave on May 11, 2011– I’ve had requests for it, so here it is. It’s a .pdf file so it may open in another window or ask to be downloaded depending on your browser. I was asked to discuss all US robots used to date at the disaster, not just the IRS-CRASAR Roboticists Without Borders deployment,  and thanks iRobot, QinetiQ, and Honeywell for their help. Any errors are totally mine.

PRESS RELEASE 4/24/11: Underwater robots clear port, look for victims

Points of Contact in Japan:

Dr. Fumitoshi Matsuno,

Points of Contact in US:

Dr. Robin Murphy, CRASAR,, via Kimberly Mallet

Joshua Chamot, National Science Foundation,, (703) 292-7730

Tim Schnettler, Texas A&M,, 979-458-2277

Vickie Chachere, University of South Florida, (813) 974-6251

A team of research and industry experts with four state-of-the-art small underwater vehicles from the US-based Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue has returned Sunday from five days in the Minami Sanriku and Rikuzen Takada areas of Japan.  CRASAR worked with the Japanese-based International Rescue Systems institute to inspect port areas as well as search for bodies trapped in flotsam or under submerged rubble. The suitcase-sized robots have advanced imaging sonars that can penetrate the murky water along with video cameras. The robots were deployed at six locations along the coast north of Sendai, working in areas that were unsafe for Japanese Coast Guard divers.  The robots did not find any bodies but received praise from Minami Sanriku Mayor Hitoshi Sato who said that the city’s port facility essential to the fishing industry would be reopened based on the robot data.

The remotely operated vehicles, called ROVs, are extremely small versions similar to the robots used at the BP Oil Spill. They vary in size from the suitcase-sized Seamor to the tiny football-sized AC-ROV to the, making them easy to transport. The SeaBotix SARbot was used the most; it is designed especially for emergency responders to be able to use to find victims trapped underwater in vehicles.  All of the robots have a tether to allow the operators to control the vehicles in real time and see the sonar and video camera footage.

The joint effort was led by Prof. Tetsuya Kimura (Nagaoka University of Technology), Prof. Fumitoshi Matsuno (Kyoto University), and Prof. Robin Murphy (Texas A&M) with funding for the US researchers from the National Science Foundation. The team members donated their time and equipment through the CRASAR humanitarian Roboticists Without Borders program. CRASAR and IRS are the leading research centers on rescue robotics, with CRASAR deploying robots to disasters worldwide including the 9/11 World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina. The other US members were Dr. Eric Steimle from AEOS Inc., a Florida start-up company specializing in marine environmental monitoring, Jesse Rodocker and Sean Newsome from SeaBotix, a leading manufacturer of ROVs, and Karen Dreger from the University of South Florida’s Center for Ocean Technology.

See for links to example photos and video footage of robots, robot-eye views, and general operations. Higher resolution b-roll is available upon request.