Robotics in Search and Rescue

Thursday 22 May 2014, 5.30pm - 7.30pm

Room 7140, Stoddart Building, City Campus, Sheffield Hallam University, Howard Street, Sheffield, S1 1WB

Prof. Jacques Penders PhD, Head of the Centre for Automation and Robotics Research at Sheffield Hallam University, Deputy Director, Sheffield Centre for Robotics


Search and Rescue scenarios are often complicated by low or no visibility conditions, caused by smoke or dust. The lack of visual feedback hampers orientation and navigation and causes significant stress for human rescue workers. This is even more pronounced in case of emergencies in buildings. Industrial warehouses are a major concern for fire fighters; the large dimensions in combination with reduced or no visibility represent major challenges.

The EU project 'Guardians' applied a robot swarm to assist fire fighters in searching a large warehouse. The talk will briefly explain the technology developed. I will explain the swarming algorithms which provide the functionality by which the robots react to and follow humans. Next I discuss the wireless communication system, which is a so-called mobile ad-hoc network. The communication network provides also the means to locate the robots and humans. Thus the robot swarm was able to interact with the human. The human could just move around and the autonomous robots reacted: thus the human to robots swarm interface required very little cognitive effort.

The robots could also transfer guidance information to the human. Trials were held with professional fire fighters of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue. It became clear that the human subjects by no means were prepared to give up their procedural routine and the feel of security provided by these routines: they simply ignored instructions that contradicted their procedural routines.

Based on this disappointing experience we defined our current (EPSRC funded) 'Reins' project which is exploring the context for using a robotic device in no-visibility conditions. The final aim is to design a robotic system and interface that can enhance human navigation and more importantly that will be accepted as a guide. We are therefore exploring (haptic) human-robot interaction and are searching for design cues and clues that may help to provide the human with some trust and confidence while being guided by a machine.