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Robots help the rescuers


An explosion, a fire in a factory, a natural disaster such as an earthquake: Rescuers and firemen need all the help they can get… and now they can count on help from robots

Robots on the ground and in the air (drones) can assist the human rescuers in getting a quick overview of the situation. Without putting the men and women at risk robots can even "work" if there is an exposure to gas or radioactivity… or if there is a danger that a structure might collapse.

The research project brings together rescuers such as fireman Emmanuele Gisi and experts in robotics such as Renaud Dubé. The autonomous systems engineer from the Technical University (ETH) in Zürich, Switzerland, explains: “There is a laser sensor on the robots that measures the distance on a map, and in two dimensions. Rotating it leads to a truly three-dimensional map. Most of the time we use two to three robots and merge all the measurements together to have a global representation of the environment.”

The next challenge is to improve the cooperation between man and machine – a problem pointed out by project coordinator Ivana Kruijff-Korbayova from the German research centre for artificial intelligence (DFKI): "What robots typically do not do is really tight collaboration with people and with other robots. That’s one of the big topics to look into ‒ what do robots need to do in order to be able to work in these human-robot teams.”

The robots from the TRADR project have not only proven their abilities in simulations. During the earthquake in August 2016 in Amatrice in central Italy two ground robots and a drone assessed the damage to two 14th century churches. They filmed the complete interior, resulting in a 3D model which will assist in building reinforcement and heritage protection.

TRADR stands for Long-Term Human-Robot Teaming for Robot-Assisted Disaster Response. The 50 months project will last until the end of 2017 and benefits from an EU-contribution of approximately 8.7 million Euros to its total budget of just over 11 mio Euros.

A report on TRADR was featured on Futuris, the science programme of the pan-European television channel Euronews. It was shown on TV more than a dozen times until 16 April 2017 and remains available online:

Euronews video (4:15), also available in DE, EL, ES, FR, HU, IT, PT and a number of other languages

Takeaway (0:46), short version of the video with music and English subtitles. No narration.

Project website

Cordis article about the TRADR deployment during the earthquake, also available in DE, ES, FR, IT, PL

Cordis factsheet

Other research projects on robotics and disaster relief