Summer is here, and for many parts of the western United States that means fire season has officially begun. Scores of firefighters have already been battling blazes across the country. First responders could soon have an innovative new tool that can go where no human feet dare tread. Researchers at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering have developed a Segway-like robot that is capable of exploring areas and taking thermal data to paint a 3D image. Using a pair of on-board RGB cameras, the machine can create virtual reality images in real time to assist firefighters.

The robots are able to be used either autonomously or in groups to roll into a building and collect data on temperature, the presence of volatile gasses, structural integrity, and search for survivors. The first prototype is also lightweight and able to climb stairs and move over obstacles.

“Firefighters arriving at the scene of a fire have 1,000 things to do,” explains UC San Diego professor of engineering, Thomas Bewley. “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.”

The scientific team at UC San Diego plans to present their results at the Conference on Robotics and Automation next year in Hong Kong. Their efforts are backed by the National Science Foundation Robotics Initiative and corporate sponsors and collaborative efforts from other engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

+ UC San Diego

Via Science Daily