Archive for the ‘Rescue Robots’ 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.

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

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.

 

 

About Unmanned Aerial Systems and the controversy over not using them at the Colorado Floods

The tone and content of the discussion of the lack of use of UAVs in the Colorado flooding among the community bothers me. I have flown small UAVs (or UAS depending on what agency is involved) at Hurricane Katrina and Wilma and have assisted with the UAV flights at Fukushima. I have also been turned down by the FAA for emergency COAs. I was involved in discussions to use UAVs at the Moore, Oklahoma, and the decision not to use them there.

So I feel I have unique perspective from both sides of the coin.

During a disaster, a UAS requires an emergency COA from the FAA, not FEMA. An agency or responsible party has to want to use the UAS, be it FEMA, a task force, or a sheriff before the FAA considers the request. If I as director of CRASAR ask the FAA, they would laugh at me; instead I make the request with the agency that CRASAR is working for (we don’t self-deploy which is illegal and unethical). The FAA can turn around an emergency COA in 30 minutes if the requestor can show that the UAS has an existing COA, can specify where it will fly, and show need.

Manned and unmanned aircraft are currently not allowed to operate over the same area at the same time, even though they may be at different altitudes. So if an agency wants to fly manned vehicles, such as CAP or manned helicopters trying to airlift people out, they have to decide if they want to stop those operations temporarily to let unmanned systems in. And remember, since communications with the air traffic controllers who are working the disaster and the actual pilots is spotty, there has to be a bit latency/down time to get the word out. So this could shut manned operations down in an area for quite a while.  The current solution is to partition the space, e.g., “this canyon on Thursday will be just for unmanned systems.”  Within that area and time frame, responders can use a small UAS on demand- though there’s always a provision to land immediately if an manned system enters the airspace for some reason.

However, having to plan to this level of detail, combined with the latency, will drive an agency such as FEMA to say it’s just not worth the time and effort- the cost-benefit to the _larger_ operations isn’t there. The cost of the deployment has never been an issue, free or not- it just may not be useful.  That’s what happened at Moore. There were manned assets meeting at least the minimum needs of the responders. UAS may have provided better info, cheaper (also free in that case) but it’s a hard sell to shut down something that’s working during a disaster to use something new. The FAA was in no way a problem or obstacle, it was a FEMA decision that it wasn’t worth it. And I can understand that decision.

I think most people don’t understand why an area has to be “sanitized” of manned vehicles for a small UAS to be used at altitudes significantly lower than a manned aircraft would fly at. One reason is that the manned aircraft may indeed be flying very low, like a helicopter lower a collar to lift a person out of flood waters. That is extremely dangerous-no-room-for-surprises-or-there’s-a-crash-and-everyone-dies operation.  So if tactical rescue is a possibility, you don’t want anything even nearby that could cause a problem.

I also think that the hobbyist versus public aircraft issue is poorly understood. Due to the quirk of the 1960s when dad (I never saw a mom on these outings) would take the kids, a picnic lunch, and the dog to a field to fly a RC plane, hobbyist got special regulations. Fast forward 50 years and these regulations are letting untrained people fly over crowds with open rotor ‘copters that have not been in any realistic way been tested. Yep, that loophole needs to be closed in an appropriate way. However, if the platform isn’t owned by a hobbyist, it falls under FAA regulations that require a COA. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you’ve been watching the news where ‘copters are injuring people.

But it doesn’t matter who owns what for a disaster because that airspace is totally cordoned off and hobbyist rules don’t apply. You aren’t allowed to just decide to fly your quad rotor or RC plane to help, because you are messing with the response. A manned system has to hightail it out of the area, land, and report what happened if it seems something that isn’t supposed to be in its area. So even if it seems like a good idea, the risk of interrupting a very important life-saving mission that you (or your police friend) knew nothing about is unacceptable. There’s a low risk but a high cost of failure if you interrupt the response. Self-deploying is bad, bad, bad.

Is the current system non-optimal? Definitely! Am I a happy camper? Not particularly. Do I understand why an agency might just say no? Yep. But I urge everyone to be aware of the rules and play by them. I don’t want to be trapped in a flood with a basket being lowered down to me and then the helicopter waves off, leaving me there for hours.

in memoriam: Michael Beebe a Roboticist Without Borders

It is with great sadness that I must report that one of members of Roboticists Without Borders, Michael Beebe, has passed away unexpectedly at his home. Michael epitomized the RWB spirit of our volunteers- he had attended the 2013 Summer Institute at Disaster City® at his own expense in order to be trained as a data manager for the field teams. He has been an active advocate for disaster robotics, leveraging his experience as a Commander in the US Navy and later as a consultant on major initiatives such as Dr. Gary Gilbert’s robotic casualty evacuation program. Mike’s positive attitude, hard work in promoting robotics, and outgoing nature was an inspiration to me. He represents the commitment and expertise that make the Roboticists Without Borders program so special. Please see:  http://www.bwfosterfuneralhome.com/Content/Obituary/193 for Michael’s Obituary.

UAVs and the Moore Tornado: response to CNN blog

CNN has a nice blog post on the UAVs that weren’t used at Moore.  Here are my comments:

Small UAVs have been used at 11 disasters internationally. The first use of small UAVs was in the US by the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, which I direct, during Hurricane Katrina as part of the Florida State Emergency Response Team. We have been advising on the use and procedures for getting permissions for the tornado response, as flying even a small UAV requires coordination with the other activity- hence the no fly zone. The FAA has had an emergency COA process for years, though we find many agencies and industries are not aware of it. We are happy to assist agencies and industries in adopting and deploying unmanned systems of any kind.

OKC Tornado– unmanned systems not the best fit, here’s why

Our hearts go out to the victims and the responders in Oklahoma. We have been working with the FEMA Innovation Team from shortly after the devastation occurred, however aerial and ground unmanned systems are not a good fit for this situation.

In terms of UAVs: There’s already aerial coverage from manned assets and it does not appear that multistory commercial buildings are heavily damaged. Two-story houses and apartment buildings and “strip malls” are well understood failures so additional aerial views are generally not needed to provide more information. If UAVs were available to the first responders, then they would be a much less expensive source of aerial information than manned helicopters or exploiting news helicopters. UAVs provide the ability to serve as wireless nodes (indeed, a big shout out to Roboticists Without Borders member Black Swift Technologies for their work with that) but the coordination with air traffic control and manned assets plus the deployment of COWs (cellular towers on wheels) means that if there weren’t available immediately, they are less likely to be of benefit.
In terms of UGVs: This is a wide affected area with “shallow” debris versus a big building collapse. Canines are the quickest way to locate any survivors that aren’t shouting or aren’t on the surface of the debris. You don’t need the UGV to penetrate the debris further than what a search camera can go to help find survivors or speed extrication.
In terms of UMVs: If there are lakes and streams, marine vehicles might be useful in searching for missing person who may have been swept into a pond and drowned.
We continue to stand by to provide assistance as needed.

Draganflyer credited with first live save with a search and rescue robot!

 

Check it out here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apEnf-0Rzb4&feature=youtu.be

Last night (May 9, 2013), a Draganflyer X4-ES UAV  with the FLIR Tau infrared imager was used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to locate the driver after a car wreck- he had wandered off in the cold. Dragan is a member of our Roboticists Without Borders and has been active in our CBRNE experimentation. The medical personnel said the driver would have had only an hour or two more to survive.  This is the first reported life saved with a Public Safety UAV. Congratulations!

China earthquake and Bangladesh collapse… the challenges of remote disasters

The Chinese earthquake and the Bangladesh collapse coming on the heels of the Tanzania building collapse illustrate the need for rapidly deployed, regional teams of disaster robots that can quickly get there. The Bangladesh collapse might have been aided by the use of small robots to penetrate in the rubble. Ground robots are less useful for a wide area of residential buildings, though UAVs are very helpful for assessing the extent of damage. But for now, the best we can do in the rescue robot community is to send our thoughts and prayers to the victims, their families, and the responders.