Robot-Assisted Emergency Response
The objective of our research is to develop a team of collaborative mobile rescue robots that can be deployed in the field, and to study human-robot cooperation between teams of rescue workers/volunteers and the robots, as well as multi-robot coordination between different robotic team members, in order to optimize robot design to meet the needs of rescue workers/volunteers in time-critical rescue missions. In a time critical SAR context, it is almost impossible for a single rescue robot to address all the challenges offered by the environments. As a result, teamwork, including human-robot cooperation and multi-robot coordination, become essential for rescue robots. The introduction of robot teams increases robustness through redundancy and allows for the distribution of the necessary hardware (i.e., different sensors) for mission completion while enabling cooperation between these robots to improve efficiency in search and exploration tasks in order to cover large areas of searching environments.
The unprecedented number and scale of natural and man-made disasters in the past decade as well as the increase in lost/missing persons has urged the emergency search and rescue community around the world to seek for more effective technologies to enhance the efficiency of search and rescue tasks. There is a very clear time pressure in SAR, as any delay can result in dramatic consequences such as the loss of human life.
In general, rescue environments can be extremely difficult to explore due to varying and complex terrain (i.e., dense forest, mountains), structurally unstable, rubble filled harsh environments (such as collapsed bridges or buildings), as well as weather and low-visibility conditions (i.e., snow and rain storms, extreme hot or cold temperatures). Furthermore, if the lost person is on the move, the longer the search goes on, a larger search area needs to be covered. Rescue robots provide a promising solution to assist rescue workers in terms of: 1) reducing personal risk to rescue workers and volunteers by searching difficult terrain or harsh environments, 2) increasing speed of response by deploying multiple rescue robots at the same time, and 3) through the use of multiple cameras and sensor fusion in order to extend the reach of rescue workers to regions that are otherwise inaccessible. Compared with rescue workers and recruited volunteers, the rescue robots have many advantages: i) unlike their human counterparts, a rescue robot will not become stressed or fatigued; ii) rescue robots can be developed in large quantities, while experienced rescue professionals are sparse resources; and iii) robots are expendable but humans are not: if a rescue robot is damaged, it can be easily repaired or replaced, but the loss or injury to rescue workers or volunteers could be very difficult due to their relationship within society.
Funding Sources: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) Program, Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Ontario Research Fund (ORF) and National Science Foundation (NSF).