Like many robots deployed in military applications, robots used for post-disaster search-and-rescue missions will go places humans can't. Most are tasked with gathering and reporting data back to human operators to help them locate victims and avoid dangerous situations. To help human first responders, these robots may be a swarm of small individuals communicating among themselves, such as those built by the Georgia Institute of Technology. Others are larger individual units that look for and help victims, like Survivor Buddy.
The design platforms they're based on often do double duty as surveillance and reconnaissance aides for the military, so they're usually equipped with communications capabilities, cameras, and multiple sensor options. Most of them are remote controlled. Some can be configured for autonomous operation, and others are entirely autonomous.
Click on the photo below for a slideshow of 10 of these heroic robots in action.
A different way of making rescue robots friendlier is designing them to look more like people, and making them big and strong enough to lift and carry unconscious disaster victims for long distances without hurting them. One example is the Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot (BEAR) prototype, built by Vecna Robotics and funded by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. The BEAR, an all-terrain, search-and-rescue, humanoid robot, can lift and carry up to 500 pounds. It's designed to locate, lift, and rescue people, and it can grasp fragile objects without damaging them. The powerful torso and arms are controlled by hydraulics, and its mobility platform has two independent sets of tracked legs. The robot balances itself on the balls of its ankles, and it can remain upright while balancing on its knees or hips. Aside from search and rescue, it can be used for handling hazardous materials, surveillance and reconnaissance, mine inspection, heavy lifting, and warehouse automation. (Source: US Army)
Bear is really cool and could do wonders for saving lives. That robot and some of the others look like they are straight from a Hollywood action flick. I think with the robots that actually interact with victims, incorporating as much humanoid technology as possible is probably a plus.
Most of the robots featured are suited for surveillance, which can lead to rescue, but don't address the most hazardous issues in search and rescue. Getting through tight spots or in collapsed buildings prevent human rescuers from reaching victims quickly.
I'd love to see if the robots featured here can help archeologists.
Most of these search and rescue/first responder robots are designed to get into tight spaces and navigate dangerous territory, while also providing reconnaissance about dangerous conditions and/or locating or helping victims. For example, Survivor Buddy, Gemini-Scout, the aptly named FirstLook, Georgia Tech's tiny MAST robots, Surveyor SRV-1, and Hector GV. The larger DARPA bots are aimed at clearing a path for first responders and/or helping victims. I suspect they'd also be useful for archeological exploration: some of the surveillance-type robots in the nautical robots slideshow
Beth, I had the same impression about BEAR: haven't I seen this in a movie someplace? I'd bet the Hollywood producers and writers of those movies have done their homework and were inspired at least partly by some of these real robots. The other part I'd guess comes straight from the pages of science fiction novels, graphic novels and comic books.
When we wrote about the BEAR a few years ago, plans were for it to be able to lift a 250-lb man and "carry him down a flight of stairs," but it wasn't yet able to do that. Now, I see it's up to 500 lbs.
The big question is would a human in a panic situation not panic further if a robot (even a cute one like Bear) rolled towards them to try to carry them down the stairs or out of a building. Your first instinct might be to run away from the robot given the turmoil that's engulfing you, creating more of a flight instinct. I'm wondering how much they can test for those scenarios without replicating the actual desperation of the scene. And if that were indeed the case, then how effective could the robots actually be in saving lives.
One solution is sedatives. they can be implimented in the form of vapor or gas in the event of a panicing victim. in cases of fire a sleeping victim might breath less and incur less damage to lungs. they will strugle less and the load will be safer to carry. Im sure other features can later be added to drive even through walls of fire. Temporary water spray to cool the victim and protect them as the robot drives through extreme environment, etc...
The other solution is a more stable robot to carry a shifting load and a better trained victim. In the case of a solder being evacuated all of a sudden a wounded soldier might still be able enough to provide suppresive fire to defend himself/herself and the robot.
Humans being rescued by Firefighters in full turn-out gear is pretty scary. A Firefighter wearing a SCBA with a full mask, sounding like Darth Vader is enough to send kids and adults crawling into greater danger rather than risk being 'saved' by the creature from your nightmares. Using rescue robots for size-up, search and rescue if possible will greatly reduce the need to put human responders into unknown risk scenarios. Wounded soldiers would know ahead-of-time that their rescue may be from a robot and would be more likely to accept that help.
Beth, those studies have been done and that's what Survivor Buddy is all about. The investigators studied things like robot "body language" and sounds, for example, which is one reason the GUI was designed with help from Pixar engineers. The studies were done in the context of what worked and didn't work in the wake of 9/11. And personally, I think BEAR is scary, not cute.
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