Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

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.

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!

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.

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

News video: Our aerial and ground robots with Austin Police Department

We’ve had members of the Police Technology Unit of the Austin Police Department over to Disaster City twice to see our Dragan and AirRobot UAVs and our Packbot 510 and SUGV.  SPO Eric Cortez and his colleagues have been terrific in helping us learn more about how they would use these devices, what they look for in a disaster (which the new Dr. Josh Peschel worked on for his PhD),  and how fire rescue and police might share and coordinate. Here’s the link to the Austin Fox Channel video– one embarrassing aspect: Disaster City is a Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX)  facility not the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue.

NSF and Japan Statement on Collaboration on Disaster Research

It’s a delight to see that the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) have agreed to formalize the informal collaboration on disaster research. Although the thrust of the agreement is on BIGDATA, disasters are in there! Check out for more info.

Underground mine rescue communications

Juan Rojas has passed on this interesting article about a robot controlled with a through-the-ground wireless link and tested in an abandoned mine. Through the ground wireless is a Holy Grail of mine rescue so this appears to be a great step in the right direction!

Thoughts about the DARPA Grand Challenge…

I’m getting bombarded with emails about the incipient DARPA grand challenge in disaster robots- very exciting- both the idea and the attention rescue robotics is getting!

While I haven’t gone through the BAA in detail (the whole email barrage thing plus I teach on Tuesdays), the media coverage and speculation highlights 3 things that I especially like:

The idea of integration is fantastic and a key enabler in making robots adoptable. Since 1999, we’ve seen this gap between an interesting sensor or mobility platform and the “full meal deal” of working in a scenario.

Another interesting idea is the use of humanoids. Up until Fukushima, rescue robots have been primarily used for sub-human scale space– spaces where people simply couldn’t go because they didn’t fit. Fukushima and indeed chemical disasters such as Bhopal occur in human-scaled spaces, where people can physically fit but may not be able to survive or work long (or well) with protective gear. The rule of thumb is that robots don’t replace people or dogs, they do things that humans can’t do or can’t do for long enough or well enough– hence our name: Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue. Through funding by the National Science Foundation, we’ve been working with TEEX on human-robot interaction for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear events- and we see huge possibilities for land, sea, and aerial robots.

And it’s win-win: the impact of improved manipulation would benefit robots operating in either scale of space– the skills that allow a a large robot to open doors could be used by a small robot to move rubble out of the way or help triage an unconscious victim.

The focus on the media appears to be on humanoids, which I hope doesn’t detract from other types of mobility or modalities. There are often aerial and water-based aspects of disasters- at Fukushima, Westinghouse used the Honeywell UAV to sample radiation and get close up views of structural damage (I assisted the Westinghouse team). Marine robots could have been used to monitor pollution in the sea.

And keep in mind that from a robotics perspective, there are at least 12 very distinct activities for rescue robots beyond the direct intervention needed to have prevented the explosions as Fukushima. These are search, reconnaissance and mapping, rubble removal, debris estimation, structural inspection, in situ medical assessment and intervention, medically-sensitive extrication and evacuation of casualties, acting as mobile beacon or repeater, adaptive shoring, logistics support, victim recovery, and serving as a surrogate for a team member. This list was compiled based on feedback from responders and what they’ve asked for or speculated on based on our 15 deployments and 30+ exercises we’ve participated in.

A good starting place is Chapter 50 Search and Rescue Robots in Handbook of Robotics and I’m working hard on my forthcoming book on Rescue Robots for MIT Press.