Drones, Robotics Called Into Emergency Service

Saturday, 25 Jan 2014 05:37 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Law enforcement officials have been using bomb squad robots for some time to push into dangerous situations, but believe that unmanned aerial vehicles, or "drones," as well as computerized robotic technology to save officers' lives in the case of emergencies.

"Just knowing what's going on inside a house that we would go into cold, [we could] potentially save officers' lives and victims' lives," Roseville, Calif., detective Phil Mancini told NBC News.

Mancini advises a group at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that is building swarms of small unmanned helicopters to act as a first response system and give law enforcement officials information about suspects they can't see.

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Pei Zhang, an associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon, is working on a project that allows crews of 10 unmanned aircraft units to explore different parts of a crime or emergency scene.

"I can see the thing deployed almost on every call, every type of EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) or SWAT call,” said Pat Zeri, the bomb squad commander at Roseville who is in charge of ground robots.

According to Zhang, even robotic insects, such as beetles that carry sensors on their backs, can also be used, because they can be sent crawling into a burning building or use motion sensors to local missing people.

The unmanned flying aircraft have already helped some first responders. The Royal Canadian Mountain Police, using a quadcopter with an infrared camera, found an injured person whose car had flipped over in snow, and in North Dakota last year, drones checked flooded farms.

At the University of Pennsylvania, the drone work is also leading to ways to help emergency responders built temporary bridges, helipads and more to help relief workers arrive at disaster zones.

Story continues below video.

Standardized shipping containers are being equipped with motors and on-board computers that allow hundreds of them, when dropped in an area, arrange themselves into the temporary structures.

Researchers have been simulating how such structures will respond to turbulent seas, and how the bots can be used to build structures like bridges and landing pads.

The algorithms of who moves where and when, to form a large conglomeration of even hundreds of them, is almost there,” said Yim, who will present the system for the first time at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Hong Kong in June.

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