Thursday, 18 February 2010

A brief history of Rescue Robots - Part 2

Blitch and Murphy were mobilised immediately after the collapse
of Tower 2 in the attacks on the World Trade Center of 9/11.
Within 24 hours, a team of robots from CRASAR, the only unit of
this kind on the planet, was on the spot to help sort through the
debris. The robots were used for searching for victims, searching
for paths through the rubble that would be quicker to excavate,
structural inspection and detection of hazardous materials.
In each case, the robots were used because they could go deeper
than traditional search equipment (robots routinely went 5-20
metres into the interior of the rubble pile versus 2 metres for a
camera mounted on a pole), could enter a void space too small for
a human or search dog, or could enter a place still on fire or posing
great risk of structural collapse.
The robots performed all their tasks well, though no survivors
were discovered by any method. The robots did find many sets of
remains and, more importantly, were accepted by the rescue community.
All robots were teleoperated due to the unexpected complexity
of the environment, the limitations of the sensors, and user
acceptance issues.
Immediately after the WTC, CRASAR formed a formal rescue
robot response support team consisting of the USF WTC team,
with Murphy as director of operations and team leader. CRASAR
established a pattern of conducting free awareness training for rescue
professionals with field certification and practice working with
rescuers, and conducting field research.
In January 2002, Blitch was sent to Afghanistan and Murphy
became Director, which led to CRASAR receiving a State Type II status,
in essence becoming a research entity formally recognised by the
State of Florida and able to manage its own budget and resources.
After 9/11, many researchers have become interested in search
and rescue. CRASAR continues to lead in basic research and especially
in fieldable systems, and has secured several grants. There is
no specific source that funds search and rescue research, so funding
comes from the defence department. The robots are expected to
be able to gather data by themselves so that operators can focus on
the emergency at hand.
According to the Director of the LA Emergency Preparedness
Department, ‘It is one thing to develop robots and another thing to
integrate them into the world of fire and law enforcement.
Dr Robin Murphy is working to establish a relationship with rescue
workers so that when the technology arrives on the scene, they
don’t say ‘‘What’s this?’’ They say, ‘‘Let’s go to work!”’

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