Where Disaster Recovery and Robots Meet

Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at Texas A&M University, talks to Emergency Management in this piece about disaster robotics.

According to Emergency Management, she began working on the topic in 1995 and has developed robots that have helped during responses to many events including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Some key quotes from Robin Murphy:

  • On how the use of robots in disasters has changed since 9/11: “We started out in 2001 and up until 2005 you didn’t see the use of anything but ground robots. Everything was very ground-centric, and I think that reflected the state of the technology. For years we had bomb squad robots, which were being made smaller and smaller for military tactical operations so that gave them a tool that was pretty easy to use. Starting in 2005, we saw the first use of small unmanned aerial vehicles that were being developed primarily for the military market and those were very useful. Those have really come up and, in fact, since 2011, I’ve only found one disaster that didn’t use an unmanned aerial vehicle and that was the South Korea ferry where they used an underwater vehicle.”
  • On her role when deploying to a disaster: “We’re always invited in, we do not self-deploy. Our center, this is something frankly that I am little disappointed that we’re still doing, I had hoped that at this point everybody would have robots, but we can provide robots. We can usually provide robots through our Roboticists Without Borders program where members train with us beforehand and then when we’re called out, they will donate their equipment and time. So we go out and our role is to first off see, what’s the right technology for what they’re trying to do? There are some times when a robot isn’t going to work because you can’t afford in a disaster to make anything worse, so we have to be conservative. We act as a dating service.”
  • On where she sees disaster robotics headed in the next five to 10 years: “In the future, for the new technology, I expect to see three things: Better software on what we call emergency informatics; it’s how you share the data and how you visualize it. In ground robots, I am so excited at work at looking at burrowing robots. The big value in most big building collapses lies in the smaller the better, what do you do when there’s not an obvious void and can you get something to literally snake and nudge and worm its way through there. There are some animals that do that — there’s a sand lizard and types of snakes that navigate in the ground — so we’re doing some work with Georgia Tech and Carnegie Mellon on that. There are also some great advances being made in manipulation. Initially I would characterize the first decade of robots as having been all about allowing the responders to see at a distance, but now we’re seeing a shift. We can see at a distance but now we would like to poke things, we would like to move them over, we would like to drop off things. So we need to act at a distance and not just see at a distance. There’s some advances in robot manipulation that are coming up and are very exciting and we’ll be incorporating those into future work.”


For the rest of the interview, see the original article here: