Yesterday the FAA released their proposed rules for small UAS. The summary focuses on the impact on commercial industry with the implication that emergency response agencies will continue to have to function under the “old” rules of applying for COAs even for class G space. I will be reading through the entire document (it’s 159 pages) in the next couple of days to see what the real impact is.
Archive for the ‘Press Releases’ Category
There’s nothing like appearing on the home page of Emergency Management Magazine to trigger a “holy cow, I haven’t been keeping up the blog!” It’s been hugely busy here between working with students colleagues, and industry partners on
- creating use cases for robots for Ebola and other infectious diseases with a grant from the National Science Foundation (Eric Rasmussen, MD FACP, and our medical director for Roboticists Without Borders is the co-PI),
- prepping UAVs for an upcoming wilderness search and rescue exercise with Brazos Valley Search and Rescue (big shout out to the FAA and CSA for their help!),
- prepping for the Robot Petting Zoo we are doing with the Field Innovation Team at SXSW to show off real robots used in real disasters,
- getting to work with Prof. Howie Choset at CMU and Prof. Dan Goldman at Georgia Tech on burrowing robots through a National Robotics Initiative grant from NSF, and
- teaching an class overload (add case studies of robots at disasters to undergrad robotics as part of my Faculty Fellow for Innovation in teaching award, plus the AggiE Challenge advised by Profs. Dylan Shell, Craig Marianno, and myself on creating ground and water robots to detect radiation )
So things are happening! Thank you for your donations that make it possible to bring robots to new venues such as wilderness search and rescue and public education events like the Robot Petting Zoo. Most of what we do is based on donations, so please donate here!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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?
- 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?)
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 email@example.com 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.
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.
Mesa 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.
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!
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 www.crasar.org.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 979.845.8737
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 Brian.email@example.com (O) 979-458-6837 (C) 979-324-8995
Contact for TEES: Pam Green firstname.lastname@example.org (O) 979-845-5510 (C) 979-574-4138