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DISASTER CITY? in College Station:  Emergency responders from 16 states are expected to test about 20 robots using two realistic training scenarios. The goal is to determine which kinds of US&R robots are best-suited to particular tasks in disaster scenarios.

The event is organized by engineers with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. In addition to TEEX, the event is co-hosted by Texas A&M Engineering and Texas Task Force 1 , which is both a state and federal urban search and rescue team sponsored by TEEX. A previous robot evaluation exercise was hosted at Disaster City? in April 2006.

This year, responders will deploy robots to a simulated structural collapse of a municipal building to search for victims and assist in “rendering the structure safe” for responders to extricate those victims. Robots will face semi-collapsed walls, sloping floors, rubble and voids, while using high-tech sensors such as laser scanners to help structural engineers to set up shoring supports.

A second scenario will deploy robots to a trainwreck/derailment involving a passenger train and a HazMat tanker train carrying unknown substances — requiring responders to remotely control the robots from 500 feet away. The robots will have to cross railroad tracks, wreckage and debris to map the scene, locate victims, find hazardous leaks and identify tanker placards describing their contents. Some robots also may take samples of unknown substances for analysis, and employ a variety of sensors, including color cameras, two-way audio transmitters, thermal imagers, chemical sensors, 3D mapping systems and GPS locators paired with geographic information systems (GIS).

Robot developers and vendors benefit from these exercises by learning firsthand what emergency responders need to perform their roles safely and effectively, and by getting feedback about their systems during mock deployments. Responders benefit from hands-on experience operating a wide variety of high-tech solutions during deployment scenarios. Both will benefit from standard robot test methods being developed as a result of these exercises, which will provide a means of measuring and comparing robot performance to help responders understand the trade-offs of particular devices.

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Kathy Fraser

Director of Marketing and Communications

The course exceeded my expectations. I have been working in this field for quite some time and did not expect to learn so much. The information gained was very applicatble to my job duties.

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