Image: Professor Achim Lilienthal and the SmokeBot (Photo courtesy of ORU).
An innovative robotic assistant collects data in emergency situations with extremely limited visibility, effectively improving the safety of rescue operations.
The SmokeBot, developed at Örebro University (ORU; Sweden), the Fire Department of Dortmund (FDDO; Germany), the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques (FHR; Wachtberg, Germany), and other institutions, is a mobile robotic rescue unit equipped with a range of environmental sensors to help responders inspect disaster sites with heavily billowing smoke and similar visibility-diminishing factors.
The robot is remote-controlled by rescue personnel, but can also navigate itself if necessary. It can plot situation maps of smoke or dust filled areas, providing valuable data in areas where humans cannot see. SmokeBot is also equipped with gas sensors, which not only detect different gases, but also provide data on the amount and concentration of such gases. According to the researchers, another potential area where the robot could be of benefit is in agriculture, as it can see through dust. The gas sensors can be used for measuring different kinds of emissions.
“This robot is completely unique; it is equipped with gas sensors, radar, a laser scanner, and thermal camera. At present, there is no robot with this combination of features,” said SmokeBot project leader Professor Achim Lilienthal, PhD, of ORU. “It compiles information from different sensors and can assess, depending on temperature and occurrence of a particular gas, if there is a risk of a gas explosion. Should it lose contact with rescue personnel, which can happen, the robot remembers where it last had an Internet connection and can navigate back to that location.”
“Restricted visibility is particularly critical for our rescue units and affects our perception capacity. In such ‘blind situations’, SmokeBot can function as our eyes and lead us in search and rescue operations,” said Sylvia Pratzler-Wanczura, PhD, of the FDDO institute of fire service and rescue technology. “It is a considerable advantage in situations where it is too risky to send in rescue personnel or when we need to search through large areas as is the case with floods and forest fires.”
Fire Department of Dortmund
Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques