NBC Nightly News Feature on CRASAR “Robot rescue: Behind the technology deployed for disaster relief”

NBC Nightly News on Aug. 28, 2018, featured CRASAR deployed ground robots from the 9/11 World Trade Center, as well as marine vehicles used at the Japanese Tsunami and the Syrian Boat Refugee Crisis, plus UAVs at Harvey. The coverage is unusual that the producer deliberately wanted to focus on ground and marine robots, which is great because emergency professionals often forget about the value of these assets. But UAVs made it in there and many thanks to Fort Bend County Judge Hebert for his comments. The piece was expected to be longer but a whole lot of “hard news” has been happening. Robin Murphy represented CRASAR plus her work at Texas A&M, but the real stars are the members of CRASAR and Roboticists Without Borders and our agency partners!

Wildland firefighting, UGVs, and UAVs

I think UAVs for wildland firefighting is a good thing, honest!

I’m at the AUVSI North America conference– yesterday I gave two papers, one on the wildland firefighting descriptive analysis that we did with Lockheed Martin on the use of ground robots and one on our Rollover Pass, Texas, response. The wildland firefighting paper made the Flight Global Daily newsletter today (probably as the token application du jour that didn’t involve weaponization). I’m quoted giving a list of problems with UAVs for wildland firefighting- that was the list of problems from the focus group of subject matter experts.

There may be a killer UAV with my name on it… please, please, call them off. I love UAVs, honest!

The list of problems is based on what they’ve seen in UAVs to date, not what’s possible or what is even available. Sadly the disconnect between what exists and what the response community has access to remains depressingly high. Bob Roth and Tom Zajkowski with the Forestry Service are working hard, with Greg Walker’s group at Alaska and Brian Argrow’s team at Colorado combining research and fieldwork.

But the poor firefighters often only see and interact with vendors who come out of nowhere at a disaster and claim to have the best technology; while well-meaning, the technology is often a poor match because there is no understanding of what the responders really need. Trust me, it’s not covered in any of the movies, you actually have to talk with them. Before a disaster. During, they are way too busy and are justifiably deeply suspicious of anything outside of their network of relationships..

Which reminds me about the time a group of technologists were told by an agency that their technology wasn’t needed, but showed up at the disaster anyway (I warned them not to do that), and were jailed and their gear impounded. Yep, interfering with a response is an offense. And the incident commander makes the call as to what constitutes interference.

Mismatched technology plus bad manners = deep abiding negative view of robots.

Anyway, ground robots good, aerial robots good, all good for wildland firefighting when applied appropriately! But we’ve got to educate the firefighters about what’s out there and ourselves about what they need. Don’t shoot the messenger 😉