Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

How to Fly at Floods: Summer Institute PLUS Roboticists Without Borders UAV training

One word about the floods and about UAVs: informatics. Read on to see what I mean ;-)

As I blogged earlier, on July 16-28, the Center for Emergency Informatics’ 2015 Summer Institute is on flooding and will bring together state agencies and municipalities who were part of the Texas floods with researchers and industry for a two-day workshop and 1 day exercise. The exercise will include UAVs flying the missing persons missions and the recovery and restoration missions.

Notice that it’s the Center for Emergency Informatics hosting the event because it’s about the right data getting to the right agencies or stakeholders at the right time and displayed in the right way that will enable them to make the right decisions. UAVs (and marine vehicles such as Emily and the small airboats being developed at Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, and University of Illinois) have a big role to play. But UAVs are useful only if the entire data-to-decision process works, aka informatics.

The Summer Institute July 26-28 will also host a training session for Roboticists Without Borders members specifically on UAVs and the best practices of how to fly at floods and upcoming hurricanes and collect the useful data– what do the decision makers need? Again, this is the informatics, the science of data, not the aeronautics. The training is independent of platform- because what the decision makers need is what they need ;-)   The current (and evolving) best practices are derived from three sources:

  1. CRASAR RWB deployments going back to 2005 Hurricane Katrina Pearl River cresting and including the Oso Mudslides and our deployment with Lone Star UAS Center to the Texas floods,
  2. the reports and analyses of what has worked at typhoons and other flooding events worldwide, and
  3. what researchers through out the world, especially the IEEE Safety, Security, and Rescue Robotics technical community, are doing.

For example, video is not as useful as high resolution imagery for searching for missing persons. Infrared isn’t helpful except in the early morning. Some missions and terrains require remote presence style of control, other can use preprogrammed flight paths. Complex terrains such as river bluffs may require flight paths that are vertical slices, not horizontal slices. Many more and I’m sure we will learn more from each other.

The training session will consist of evening classes on July 26 and 27, with field work on July 28 at the 1,900 acre Riverside Campus. We will fly fixed-wing and rotorcraft for response missions (reconn, missing persons, flood mitigation) and for recovery/restoration (damage assessment, debris estimation, household debris estimation, power utility assessment, transportation assessment). The scenarios will be designed by experts from Texas Task Force 1 and the representatives from the agencies that would use the information, including the fire rescue, law enforcement,  Texas insurance commission, SETRAC, etc.).

It’s not too late to join Roboticists Without Borders and attend! It’s free.

Hope to see you there!


Summer Institute Dates Announced (finally!) July 26-28

The 2015 Summer Institute on Flooding will be held on July 26-28 at the Riverside Campus, College Station, Tx.  Check out the information at


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).

Preventing disasters: small unmanned aerial vehicles for evacuation and crowd control

This month’s issue of Smithsonian Magazine has an article  “Why are people so comfortable with drones?” on  Brittany Duncan’s preliminary study for her NSF graduate fellowship research on using small UAS for evacuation and crowd. Brittany is my PhD student who recently flew the AirRobot at the SR530 mudslide response. It’s nice to see that robots are being considered for more than the immediate life-saving aspects of search and rescue. Brittany sees a near future where aerial vehicles can act as “headers” and “heelers” to guide and block people into following the right exits during an evacuation.

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