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)
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...
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.
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.
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.
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