Archive for the ‘Rescue Robots’ Category

Waco Explosion: no robots needed

We are all keeping the victims, the families, and the responders in the devastating explosion of the fertilizer plant in Waco in our thoughts and prayers. We’ve reached out and there doesn’t appear to be a need for robots at this time. The event occurred in the evening, a problematic time to fly sUAVs to get an immediate overview. Damage  to residential areas do not require robots, as canines are much faster at detecting victims and the debris is usually sufficiently shallow that the interior view from a robot is not needed for searching or extrication. Robots are sometimes useful for forensics- to enter areas and capture the scene before people enter and disturb it by virtue of entering. But the word is that they aren’t needed for this case.

Iran Earthquake: CRASAR monitoring but this type is hard for robots

Dr. Tetsu Kimura and member of our IRS-CRASAR expeditions is coming back from Robocup Rescue in Iran and has asked about CRASAR robots for the Iran earthquake. I am taking the liberty of sharing my reply:

The earthquake is awful and what another tragic loss of life.  I am a great admirer of Amir and his efforts. We’ve been watching the earthquake here– I don’t think the robots would be of much use but certainly would try to support a response. It is painful to see the loss of life.

The primary damage based on the media- which could be wrong- appears to be to mud and brick houses versus multi-story commercial buildings, if victims survive they are probably fairly shallow (less than 6m) and in voids surrounded by brick and mud has become sand– there are generally no voids from the surface to the survivor for the robot to penetrate. Dogs can readily detect the presence of a person and then it requires manpower for extraction. Existing techniques work well for depths of 6m.  Robots are slow compared to canines, and CRASAR deployment with FLTF-3 during Hurricane Charley and FLTF-3 deployment of ground robots at Hurricane Katrina showed that ground robots didn’t provide a cost/benefit for wide area search of urban residences. So unless it’s a multi-story building such as an apartment that has collapsed, current ground robots won’t make a difference and we recommend more canine teams.  In the future, something like Dan Goldman’s sandsnake robots on a large scale could help.

Landslides are also challenging for ground robots, as we saw at the La Conchita mudslides- as with the mud and brick residences you have nothing but dense dirt, not the void spaces seen in a commercial concrete structure.

The nuclear facility is another matter, of course, and the situation may call for ground and aerial inspection.

For the wide area search of residences, besides canine teams other technologies such as ground penetrating radar and better informatics to coordinate researchers and resources would be a huge potential contribution and why the Center for Emergency Informatics exists.

Finally, there is the large travel time as Satoshi noted for the Tanzania collapse, so we would arrive around 72 hours later, outside the probability of long-term survivors. The robots would add little to recovery of the critical infrastructure in this case.

Please let me know what you think. In the meantime our prayers are with the victims, their families, and the responders.

Thoughts on the Second Anniversary of the Tohoku Earthquake and Fukushima


Today is the second anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami and the associated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident that have taken over 15,000 lives and will cost at least $34 billion.  Our hearts and prayers remain with the Japanese people and all of us at CRASAR are honored to have assisted in a small way.


These terrible events resulted in an unprecedented use of rescue robots provided by nearly a dozen groups to agencies or stakeholders.  A ground robot and a ground-aerial team assisted with earthquake damage inspection. Five marine vehicles were used for tsunami recovery operations. Two unmanned aerial vehicles and at least six different ground robots have been reported at Fukushima. Indeed, Fukushima was notable for the press asking where were the robots? This is quite a change since the first use of rescue robots 10 years earlier at the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster, which saw only six robots from CRASAR used by only two agencies.


Yet, two years later after Tohoku, the use of rescue robots remains ad hoc, with agencies all over the world unaware of capabilities that have been proven in other disasters or in related applications such as inspection or military operations. In the United States, New Jersey Task Force 1 is the only urban search and rescue team with robots; no FEMA urban search and rescue team has a robot of any type.


While agencies largely remain unaware of rescue robotics, the 2011 events appear to have captured the attention of robotics researchers. Based on my observations of the popular press and reviews of articles and grants, disasters have become heavily cited as a potential societal impact for any number of clever concepts in mobility and control–  robot insects and snakes, exoskeletons, UAVs with arms, robots that unfold like proteins, and so on.


Will these innovative lines of basic research in mobility and control really contribute to disaster prevention, response, or recovery? As with all worthy basic research, it’s hard to predict where an innovation will actually be transformative, only that it will be.  The ideas are exciting and I look forward to seeing where they will go in the next 20 years. But I worry: will the hype promoting these futuristic mechanisms confuse agencies as to what is available now? Will the disconnect of these imaginative mechanisms from how disaster preparedness and response actually works and what is needed scare the agencies away?


What is needed is better perception and human-robot interaction. A recent survey of the IEEE Safety, Security, and Rescue Robotics (SSRR) technical committee reported the biggest technical barriers are perception and human-robot interaction, not mobility and control. SSRR, the one scientific community dedicated to disaster robotics, concluded that it is not the lack of mature mechanisms that is keeping robot deployments ad hoc. Rather it is the lack of sensors, image enhancements, interfaces,  visualizations, etc., that is holding back adoption.  Robots often don’t fit into the overall data-to-decision process as they don’t provide enough sensing. They are often designed to simplify the workload on the operator, ignoring the needs of the multiple decision makers who need to see the data from the robot in order to extract information specific to structural integrity, environmental quality, survivor health, etc. The agencies can’t buy systems they can drive but can’t effectively use.


The legacy of the first 10 years of rescue robotics is that the Public expects to see robots at disasters. I hope the legacy of the next 10 years is that agencies will have the robots on hand and the ability to use them effectively.


The CRASARinfo channel at YouTube has video from some of our efforts at the Tohoku tsunami, see

Reuters video: Fukushima disaster tests mettle of local robot makers

Check out this 3 minute video on Japanese robots being used, or developed, for Fukushima. Big shout out to Prof. Eiji Koyanagi at the Chiba Institute of Technology- he’s been a real pioneer in rescue robotics.

UAV used with Chemical Train Derailment- just like IEEE SSRR Paper Predicted

The Unmanned Systems Technology website reports that a Datron Scout was used to assist with a chemical train derailment last week. This is a great use of small UAVs and one which CRASAR has been exploring with TEEX through funding by the National Science Foundation.  Josh Peschel (now a research professor at the University of Illinois), Clint Arnett (TEEX), Chief David Martin (TEEX), and I presented a paper two weeks ago at the IEEE International Symposium on Safety, Security, and Rescue Robotics on “Projected Needs for Robot-Assisted Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear (CBRN) Incidents”  based on Josh’s PhD work with 20 domain experts using a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to investigate a simulated chemical train derailment at Disaster City(r). The paper was a finalist for Best Paper.  Good to see the Scout used!

Hurricane Sandy: watching and prepping for SSRR

A post from reminded me that I hadn’t updated the blog about Hurricane Sandy. We have not been called and really didn’t expect to be. Sandy hit the NJ/NY area- home turf to Jim Bastan and NJ-TF1, the US&R task force that has been aggressively adopting robots.  They fielded the ground robots at the Prospect Towers collapse and also have been experimenting with UAVs. Likewise FDNY and NYPD have access to a wide set of technologies through the DHS National Urban Science and Technology lab.

Remember: Roboticists Without Borders patch to pointers to where robots have/are being used! Help me keep the list of robots and disasters growing!

We do expect to assist with recovery efforts such as what we did in Japan, especially with underwater assessment. In the meantime, I am personally working on the finishing touches for the 10th IEEE International Symposium on Safety, Security, and Rescue Robots, which starts on Monday. I’m the general chair with Dr. Alex Kleiner, a fabulously talented researcher in Sweden,  serving as the conference chair organizing the 43 papers from 10 countries doing most of the real work!

A Decade of Rescue Robots Video out!

Check out our new video presented at IROS 2012 for the Jubilee video competition: It shows the past ten years of rescue robots and CRASAR’s deployments.

Anniversary of 9/11 and human-robot interaction

It’s 9/11 and it is perhaps karma that I am at the NDIA Human-Systems Division Workshop- because the lesson learned at the WTC was that the robots were physically good enough, but the biggest area for improvement was the human-robot interaction. Check out Jenn Casper’s paper
at – it’s one of the most highly cited papers in human-robot interaction.

Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families of the victims and all the people working in homeland security and homeland defense to prevent terrorism and eliminate the need for rescue robots for that particular application.

Iran Earthquake

The death toll for the latest Iranian earthquake appears to be settling in around 300 lives lost- a sad number. Iranian rescue roboticist and colleague Amir Soltanzadeh posted on facebook that most of the victims were in 1 story houses which were easy to search. This is where dogs excel- they can cover large areas, determining if there is a survivor in a house in minutes (or less), whereas a ground robot has no comparable sensors and would have to physically worm through the rubble to visually find a survivor- a process that takes time and energy (as in battery power is limited).  1 story houses are also easier to work with for extrication- a ground robot doesn’t offer much benefit.

Unmanned aerial vehicles may be the best initial choice of robots for disasters that pose extreme scales of distance and area– their first look can help professions prioritize the response and estimate the resources that will be needed. Together with social networking from those on the scene, professionals can get better information must faster.

The Iranian people are in our hearts and prayers and we are all grateful this earthquake was no where as bad as Bam.

Landslide in British Columbia: how robots can help in such events

The sad news of the mudslide in Canada is very similar to the 2005 La Conchita mudslide, described in this paper on rescue robots for mudslides, where CRASAR had its first post-World Trade Center deployment of rescue robots at the request of the Ventura County Fire Department. Mudslides are fluidized, so like water, the mud penetrates everything nook and crevice. Survivors are generally found in the collaterally damaged structures on the periphery rather than in the direct path. Small ground robots can be useful for trying to get into the crushed and twisted houses and buildings, either from the roof or from under the foundation. But robots and unattended ground sensros can also be useful for monitoring the mudslide- because the responders have to worry about the slide breaking loose and sliding more. Everyone had to evacuate La Conchita because of that. Work has been done by various groups to create unattended ground sensors that can be stuck in the ground  of sensitive areas and wirelessly report soil water content (hey– things are fluidizing here!) and movement (hey- I’m beginning to creep and shift, big movement may follow).  One idea is to use aerial robots to drop these networks of sensors in place after a disaster to help monitor. Otherwise, geologists have to periodically laboriously climb up (and hope not to trigger more slides) and take manual measurements. Our prayers go out to the families and the responders.

Below are pictures from La Conchita:

la conchita sam robin
santa barbara external sam void logo
zelah external void entry logo