Archive for the ‘Press Releases’ Category

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.

 

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!

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

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, murphy@cse.tamu.edu, 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   Brian.blake@tamu.edu (O) 979-458-6837 (C) 979-324-8995

Contact for TEES: Pam Green  p-green@tamu.edu (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)