This autonomous ground robot helps firefighters in enclosed spaces

It's mini yet mighty.
Nergis Firtina
The autonomous ground robot.
The autonomous ground robot.

Fernandez Talavera et al.  

An autonomous ground robot was developed by researchers at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. It could help firefighters deal with situations in enclosed spaces.

This method could help firefighters plan interventions more effectively by paving safe access routes to the impacted areas and assisting them during evacuations. 

Undoubtedly, firefighters would profit from the assistance of trustworthy mobile robots in their high-danger duties. Regarding this, researchers led a study called "HelpResponder" in 2021, which aims to reduce accident rates and mission times of intervention teams, as reported by Tech Xplore.

 "This is achieved using fixed beacons, drones, and ground robots. The ground robot was developed as part of a BSc project and supports emergency teams by acquiring environmental parameters in real-time," says Noelia Fernández Talavera, one of the researchers who carried out the study.

How does the robot help firefighters?

The robot, developed by Talavera and her colleagues, can monitor its surroundings. It also shares the collected data with firefighters. This is accomplished by using numerous sensors that can measure the temperature, humidity, and air quality in an interior setting and its own and other objects' positions. This information is kept in a database, which firemen can access remotely via a smartphone app.

"While in autonomous mode, the robot can cover entire rooms and corridors, providing local information on the environmental conditions," Talavera said.

"Finally, the evacuation mode creates fast and safe routes toward targets. This mode uses the prior knowledge of the scene to compute the shortest path from the current position to the target one. This target position can be the exit of the building or the location of a victim, among other things," she added.

Talavera and her colleagues put their robot through a battery of testing, including simulations and field experiments.

"The next steps in our research will be to improve the autonomous navigation system by integrating ROS and enhance the simulator to reproduce dynamic scenarios where fire and smoke advance in the same way as they would in real situations," Talavera added.

The study was published in Wiley Online Library.

Study abstract:

Intervention teams act in hostile scenarios where reducing mission times and accident risks is critical. In these situations, the availability of accurate information about the environment plays a key role in ensuring the well-being of rescuers and victims. This information required to plan the interventions in indoor emergencies encompasses the location of fires and the presence of dangerous gases. Robotics and remote sensing technologies can help emergency teams to obtain this information in real-time without exposing themselves. Additionally, the accurate simulation of the environments allows the teams to plan their interventions, creating routes to safely access the affected areas and evacuate the victims. This article presents a robotic solution developed to satisfy the demands of intervention teams. More specifically, it describes an autonomous ground robot that can obtain real-time location and environmental data from indoor fires, as well as a simulator that reproduces these emergency scenarios and facilitates mission planning. In this way, emergency teams can know the conditions in the scenario before, during, and after the intervention. Thus, risks are minimized by improving their situational awareness and reducing their exposure times during the mission. The system has been developed and validated in collaboration with the end-users and under realistic harsh environments. During these experiments, the robot was used to detect fire sources and cold smoke and provide environmental information to firefighters. Additionally, the simulator provided alternative routes for accessing and exiting the scene faster and safer by dodging potentially dangerous areas.

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