Robotics assistance in accidents and mine clearance

We continue our review of professional service robots and consider another introductory class - robotic firefighters and deminers.

Manufacturers from different parts of the world have developed several prototypes of robots for detecting and extinguishing fires. However, very few designs have been commercialized and found in day-to-day use. Most of them are remote-controlled vehicles equipped with various sensors and fire suppression devices. This class's range of tasks also includes search and rescue operations in fire or hostile environments.

Application of robots in fire fighting

An up-and-coming niche for the use of service robots is fire fighting. The risk of explosions and extremely high temperatures from a fire forced firefighters to work at a significant distance from the epicenter of the flame. Therefore, the positioning of the water jet is less accurate, and the water pressure weakens with distance, which reduces the effectiveness of fire extinguishing.

Remotely controlled or autonomous robotic firefighters approach the fire at distances impossible for a human firefighter and actuate installed water or foam cannons (see TrackReitar FFL article by LeoTronics). The extinguishing agent is supplied through a hose stretched from behind. Some water jets are equipped with sensors to determine and correct the jet's trajectory. Special robots such as the TrackReitar FFK are responsible for transporting and unwinding the fire hose. Another type of robot is an evacuation robot that helps remove people from dangerous environments, such as inside or around houses that could collapse, and deliver them to a safe place.

Robotic assistance to deminers

A wide variety of bomb disposal robots were developed last years. Today, these - usually remotely controlled - robots play an increasingly important role in national security efforts. A typical configuration for a bomb disposal robot is a mobile base with a manipulator and gripper, a set of diagnostic tools (camera, chemical detectors), bomb disposal tools, and a remote control device (tethered or wireless). Besides, the robot arm can carry weight, change instruments, and pick up new ones, so no manual assistance is required. This feature is essential when working with explosive objects.

Defusing mines robots can deactivate explosive things at any place so that operators can remain at a safe distance during operation. They rely on camera footage, and therefore correct positioning is critical to get the precise work required. Additional diagnostic tools, such as metal detectors and georadars, immediately provide accurate information and enable quick decisions based on the information gathered. Follow the link for more detailed information on how the TrackReitar MineHunter robot deminer works. Of course, skilled operators, who can handle such robots accurately, are another prerequisite for successful operation.

To improve the efficiency of robots in disaster response, ergonomics and human factors research has become an important research topic. Test methods have been developed to measure and optimize the basic robot/operator capabilities required to perform operational tasks defined by emergency services, military personnel, and their respective organizations. More than 100 robots were tested as of today to a different extent according to standard testing methods. Detailed overviews describe using appropriate testing methods to evaluate robots, refine and protect procurement decisions, and train operators in qualifications.