Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hardware heroes: search and rescue robots

Video highlights from Monday.

Will robots soon be tools used by urban search and rescue teams?

“I feel strongly that robots will be a valuable asset in the near future for search and rescue teams from around the world,” said
Texas Task Force 1 Director Bob McKee. “They have tangible benefits that can supplement rescuers.”

This week at
Disaster City®, one can get a glimpse of the future.

Approximately 35 robot manufacturers from across the United States and international representatives from Japan, Germany and Canada will test the latest in robot technology at the world’s most realistic search and rescue training ground. The robots represented envelop all formats – ground, air and water.

“The developers will test the robots and a lot of data will be collected on Monday and Tuesday,” said Billy Parker, TEEX Urban Search and Rescue Program Manager. “The robots will then be used by responders from around the country on Wednesday and Thursday and the responders will give the manufacturers feedback to improve the robots for search and rescue. That’s the ultimate goal: To get the robots ready for a search and rescue environment.”

Standardized test methods are set up around Disaster City® to test robot mobility, energy, power, sensors, manipulation and human/system interaction – to name a few.

“The standard test methods are meant to be abstract and meant to be replicated anywhere,” Adam Jacoff, National Institute of Standards and Technology Robotics Research Engineer said. “The idea is to be able to build the test in your shop and practice. The tests are driven by responder needs and requirements. In reducing the tests to an apparatus and method we are conveying to the developers how to answer the problems.”

The exercise is sponsored by NIST (a part of the Department of Commerce) and the Department of Homeland Security.

Why at Disaster City®?

Disaster City is a 52-acre, mock community which features full-scale, collapsible structures designed to simulate various levels of disaster and wreckage. Emergency responders from across the globe venture to Disaster City® for unparalleled search and rescue training and exercises. Simply put, Disaster City® is the most comprehensive emergency response training facility available today.

“We have been to several FEMA training facilities and everyone has their own key components,” Jacoff said. “Disaster City is the one place that really puts it all together. The variety of scenarios here is unmatched anywhere else. We can bring responders in and teach them to operate the robots in the test methods then we can deploy into the scenarios – the train crashes, the rubble piles, the partially collapsed structures. That’s the kind of thing only found at Disaster City and the TEEX and Texas A&M folks are always very gracious in supporting us.”

Check back later this week for more video, pictures and information regarding the NIST Robot Evaluations.

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