In the past two decades it is estimated that disasters are responsible for about 3 million deaths worldwide, 800million people adversely affected, and property damage exceeding US$50 billion. The recent earthquake in Turkey in November of 1999 left 700 dead and 5000 injured. Many of these deaths were from structural collapse as buildings fell down onto people. Urban Search and Rescue involves the location, rescue (extrication), and initial medical stabilization of victims trapped in confined spaces. Voids formed when a buildings collapse is one instance of a confined space. Urban Search and Rescue may be needed for a variety of situations, including earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes floods, fires, terrorist activities, and hazardous materials (hazmat) accidents. Currently, a typical search and rescue team is composed of about ten people, including canine handlers and dogs, a paramedic, a structural engineer, and various specialists in handling special equipment to find and extract a victim. Current state of the art search equipment includes search cameras and listening devices. Search cameras are usually video cameras mounted on some device like a pole that can be inserted into gaps and holes to look for signs of people. Often a hole is bored into the obstructing walls if a void is suspected to exist on the other side. Thermal imaging is also used. This is especially useful in finding warm bodies that have been coated with dust and debris effectively camouflaging the victim. The listening devices are highly sensitive microphones that can listen for a person who may be moving or attempting to respond to rescuers calls. This hole process can take many hours to search one building. If a person is found extrication can take even longer. This paper presents the developments of a modular robot system towards USAR applications as well as the issues that would need to be addressed in order to make such a system practical.
Recent natural disasters and man-made catastrophes have focused attention on the area of emergency management arid rescue.These experiences have shown that most governmentâ„¢s preparedness and emergency responses are generally inadequate in dealing with disasters. Considering the large number of people who have died due to reactive, spontaneous, and unprofessional rescue efforts resulting from a lack of adequate equipment or lack of immediate response, researchers have naturally been developing mechatronic rescue tools and strategic planning techniques for planned rescue operations. Research and development activities have resulted in the emergence of the field of rescue robotics, which can be defined as the utilization of robotics technology for human assistance in any phase of rescue operations, which are multifacetted and vary from country to country due to regional policies, the types of disasters, and the different compositions of rubble in the disaster areas. Other aspects of rescue robotics include:
Â¢ Detection and identification of living bodies
Â¢ Routing and/or clearing of debris in accessing the victim
Â¢ Physical, emotional, or medical stabilization of the survivor by bringing to him/her automatically administered and telemetered first aid
Â¢ Fortification of the living body for secure retrieval against any falling debris and possible injuries
Â¢ Transportation of the victim.
These operations also vary in character for different kinds of disaster environments, such as urban areas, underground, or underwater, which are unstructured and technologically difficult for humans to access. The critical issues in rescue are the expediency and compliance of rescue tools. The other major rescue problems encountered are:
Â¢ Nondexterous tools are generally cumbersome, destructive, and usually directly adapted from construction devices.
Â¢ Debris-clearing machines are heavy construction devices that, when functioning on top of rubble, trigger the rubble to cave in.
Â¢ Tool operation is generally very slow and tedious and does not take into consideration prior attempts on the same spot (they do not learn from the on-the-spot trials), yielding many unsuccessful repetitions.
Â¢ Although a few detectors are available, the search for survivors is mainly based on sniffing dogs and human voices, where calling and listening requires silence and focused attention that is very difficult due to over- worked, exhausted, and depressed rescue workers.
Â¢ The supply of first-aid can only be done when at close proximity to the survivor, a distance frequently reached when the critical timing for survival is exceeded.
Â¢ The retrieval of bodies generates extra injuries since professional stabilization of the victim is seldom obtained and is not continuously monitored.
Aiming at enhancing the quality of rescue and life after rescue, the field of rescue robotics is seeking dexterous devices that are equipped with learning ability, adaptable to various types of usage with a wide enough functionality under multiple sensors, and compliant to the conditions of the environment and that of the person being rescued.
Constraints on Robotic Rescue Devices
The field of rescue robotics is seeking to develop the closest possible relationship between humans and machines in emergency situations, leading the way to the possible substitution of men by machines, based on their autonomy. Adjustable autonomy, shape-shifting robots (holonic robots equipped with multiple sensing modules) provide the necessary flexibility and adaptability needed in the difficult workspaces of rescue missions. Robotic rescue devices have to work in extremely unstructured and technically challenging areas shaped by natural forces. One of the major requirements of rescue robot design is the flexibility of the design for different rescue usage in disaster areas of varying properties. Any two disasters of tie same type do not have damages that are alike and, in the same disaster, no two regions are likely to exhibit similar damage characteristics. Thus, rescue robotic devices should be adaptable, robust, and predictive in control when facing different and changing needs. They should be compliant to the environment, to changing tasks, and be intelligent in order to handle all disturbances generated from different sources of parametric and nonparametric uncertainty.
Rescue robots should be equipped with a multitude of sensors of different types and resolution since detection, identification, and tracking of survivors should continuously be performed. As mentioned in sensors are the weakest components in the rescue system. They need to be robust in data acquisition, with enough intelligence to minimize errors and orient themselves towards maximum signal intensity. Sensors can assume a distributed role in control when embedded in sensing modules, generally called logical sensors. Robotic devices should be cheap enough so that they can be manufactured and used in rescue operations en masse. This redundancy in number is critical in order to compensate for failures in rescue mission performance. The loss of these devices should not be highly expensive. Thus, multiple inexpensive and less accurate sensors should be onboard devices rather than expensive specialized detectors. This leads to the need for sensor and decision fusion in rescue robots to increase the robustness in sensing and control, putting a computational burden on data processing.
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