A team of researchers at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and Universidad Autónoma de Madrid have developed an autonomous ground robot that could one day assist firefighters tackling emergencies in indoor environments.

The system, which is being developed under the HelpResponder project and seeks to reduce accident rates and mission times among first responders, is expected to enable first responders at a fire to better plan their interventions, and clear safe paths for accessing affected areas and pathways for evacuation.

Source: Fernández Talavera et al.Source: Fernández Talavera et al.

The ground robot, according to its developers, supports emergency teams by acquiring environmental parameters in real-time. To develop the robot, the researchers gathered data about accidents that have previously impacted first responders who tackled missions in indoor environments, encountering structure collapse and disease contraction associated with inhaling toxic gases, among other incidents.

"These statistics reveal the need for firefighters to know the environment before intervening," the researchers explained. "All the information about the location of the fires, the presence of harmful gases, and the possible paths is relevant to carry out more effective and safe interventions."

According to the researchers, the robot monitors its surrounding environment and shares the data acquired with human agents. To accomplish this, the robot uses sensors that measure temperature, humidity, location and the location of various objects, and air quality in an indoor setting. Once collected, such data is saved in a database that firefighters can remotely access via a smartphone app.

In order to take on different scenarios, the researchers note that the robot has three operational modes. In manual mode, operators can remotely control the robot via a keyboard, joystick or joypad.

In autonomous mode, the robot is allowed to independently explore an indoor environment while also avoiding obstacles, guided by a coverage path planning algorithm that employs data collected by integrated sensors. In this mode, the robot can navigate entire rooms and corridors, offering local information on the environmental conditions.

In evacuation mode, the robot produces fast and safe routes toward targets using previously obtained knowledge of the scene to generate the shortest paths for exiting a building or locating victims within the building, for instance.

The researchers suggest that the system could one day lead to the development of not only robots capable of assisting firefighters, but that also assist law enforcement and search and rescue missions.

An article detailing the robot, An autonomous ground robot to support firefighters' interventions in indoor emergencies, appears in the Journal of Field Robotics.

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