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.
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.
BEAR reminds me of Robo-Cop. It is a great idea to use the robots to interact with victims. If the robots had audio capabilities this would/could allow two communications with victims. In the case of a rescuing a child it would be comforting for a child to hear someone's voice, like their parent to keep them claim.
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
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.
Funny you should say that, Jack. The first time I saw the Army's BEAR robot, I thought it looked like a teddy bear, not a real bear. Come to think of it, maybe that's on purpose, to make it look friendlier.
I like the idea of robots coming to the rescue, unlike the abominable movie "I Robot", but I fear for the poor soul who sells one and gets sued as soon as it doesn't live up to human expectations. The technology is there and being used piecemeal now, but when the lawyers get hold of it, it would be better to just let the poor fool die.
Having made my disclaimer, it is time we used some of our robot playthings in universities to help mankind in more ways. We already use them, I hear, to clear roadside bombs, old land mines, nuclear (nuclur, dear George) waste,etc., but if they could come to the rescue in house or building fires, chemical spills, and so on, a lot of lives could be saved. Maybe even mine when I mess up in the kitchen...
Warren, I'd guess that since most of the rescue robots are being designed for deployment by the military and first responders like police departments, they aren't likely to be deployed by civilians in a disaster. OTOH, if you buy one for help in the kitchen, you're probably on your own.
I am sure that I have seen the "BEAR" robot quite a while back, probably in Design News, and it would seem that whatever needed to be verified would be verified by now. As for a battlfield rescue robot, An American flag on the robot's chest would be enough for many, although certainly a robot could deliver a voice message as well. The very best choice would be to provide a bit of training for those likely to be rescued.
Of course, in a disaster or fire rescue a robot could certainly have a friendly human sounding voice, since it would not need much in the line of life support hardware for itself.
The concept of tranquilizing a panicy victim is about the most poorly advised idea that I have ever heard, since the legal ramifications would be horrible. We all know that.
William, I'm not sure where the idea of tranquilizing victims comes from. If you mean the Survivor Buddy, the point there was lessons learned after 9/11 about how weird, alien and upsetting a robot can appear to a human in distress. So the GUI and the machine's body language were designed to help calm the victim, as well as provide web communication with family and rescuers. Or did you mean something else?
Ann, it was in the post by ervin0072002 , who suggested some "sedative gas" or somesuch. The nearby comments mentioned the potential for legal grief if the robot did not deliver up to somebody's expectations.
Where the problem begins is in the minds of those who have no technical understanding at all, and presume that engineers can do anything if they choose to do it, and spend enough money on it. That, along with the inability of so very many to focus their attention long enough to learn and understand things, seems to be the basis of those who are unwilling, or unknowing-enough, so that they believe that all of their existance is "somebody else's" responsibility.
On the other side, rescue robots do need to be made to look and sound friendly and reassuring. That is why the comment about needing a very good quality speech and sound system on the robots. Fortunately that technology is quite mature.
One of the many advantages of humans (organics) is our mass to strength ratio. We efficiently convert food to energy and productivity. We have a built-in computer that has millions of parallel processors and almost unlimited memory, plus billions of input devices of various types (sound, touch, smell, optical, temperature, psychic (??), etc. No machine has all these capabilities in such a neat little package (well, "little" is in the eyes of the beholder). As we develop our little robot companions, the mass (weight, here on earth) adds up quickly and soon becomes unwieldy. Too bad, but it is a fact of life. We haven't been able to improve on God, and probably won't come close, but we can develop specific-use robots to help us in our travail through life. Rescue robots are top on my list! Too bad we have to replace so many workers with assembly line robots, but that is an economic fact of life. It will be interesting to see how our best and brightest come up with new solutions over the next few years in robotics. I will certainly be following the engineering side of this work. I hope it acts as a spring board to other areas like NASA did.
Truchard will be presented the award at the 2014 Golden Mousetrap Awards ceremony during the co-located events Pacific Design & Manufacturing, MD&M West, WestPack, PLASTEC West, Electronics West, ATX West, and AeroCon.
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