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Firefighter Robot Paints 3-D Thermal Imaging Picture for Rescuers
Jun 2013
SAN DIEGO, June 6, 2013 — An image processing technique that allows small Segway-like robotic vehicles to create 3-D thermal images of burning buildings in real time could help firefighters better assess structures and plan rescue missions.

The mobile robots, developed by engineers in the Coordinated Robotics Lab at the University of California, San Diego, are equipped with a sophisticated onboard software system that can map and photograph the interior of burning buildings using a pair of stereo RGB cameras. The small robotic vehicle, called FFR, creates a virtual reality picture by gathering data from the various sensors to characterize the state of a fire, including temperature, volatile gases and structural integrity, all while searching for survivors.

FFR is a robotic scout for firefighters developed by the Coordinated Robotics Lab at the University of California, San Diego. Images courtesy of Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego.

The research is part of an initiative to develop new robotic scouts that can assist firefighters in residential and commercial blazes.

A number of these robots working together could quickly develop an accurate, real-time virtual picture of the building’s interior for rescuers, who would then use the data to better assess their plan for firefighting and rescue activities.

Thomas Bewley, a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering, and his dynamics and control team have built a prototype of the robotic vehicle, which resembles a self-righting Segway that can climb stairs.

“These robot scouts will be small, inexpensive, agile, and autonomous,” Bewley said. “Firefighters arriving at the scene of a fire have a thousand things to do. To be useful, the robotic scouts need to work like well-trained hunting dogs, dispatching quickly and working together to achieve complex goals, while making all necessary low-level decisions themselves along the way to get the job done.”

FFR is equipped with stereo cameras that allow the robot to create 3-D imaging maps of burning buildings for firefighters to better assess a structure and plan their firefighting and rescue missions.

The project represents a collaboration of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, and San Diego-based companies ATA Engineering, L-P3 and Brain Corp. They have applied for large block funding from the National Science Foundation’s Robotics Initiative to sustain the project.

Results of the research will be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation next year in Hong Kong.

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