DEE, Kyle David, A. 2012-30610
STS THY Individual Project
Robots for Emergency Response
On December 26, 2004, a 9.3 Magnitude earthquake centred off the west coast of Sumatra set off a tsunami that killed 240,000 people. On March 11, 2011, the Fukushima I nuclear power plant at Fukushima Prefecture encounters a catastrophic failure that causes a meltdown and becomes the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. These two (2) disasters have something in common. They opened the eyes of people to the glaring truth that today’s standards of emergency response is simply not enough to cope with the numerous disasters that grip our world. The world simply cannot rely on fire fighters, paramedics, and policemen to risk their lives saving others. There has to be another solution to our emergency response woes, and the solution to that are robots.
Two pioneering organizations in the field of emergency response robots are DHARPA and Honda. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the Japanese authorities were criticised for not utilizing their massive technological resources in emergency response robots. Honda, however, has answered the call of the people for emergency response robots. A veteran in the field of robotics, Honda is now on the development phase of a new generation of robots designed to negotiate through collapsed buildings as well as operate levers, valves and switches. It can do this thanks to its humanoid design patterned after ASIMO. These humanoids have the mobility of human beings as well as have hands modelled after human beings. These robots are designed to mimic the effectiveness of fire fighters while keeping them out of harm’s way.
Another organization, DARPA, has developed a 6 foot 2 inch humanoid robot designed to respond to natural or man-made disasters. The ATLAS, as it is called, is an autonomous robot that has an innovative feature, modular wrists. This feature allows ATLAS to have “add-ons” attached to him to specialize it for different needs (i.e. a saw can be attached to clear trees in a mudslide whereas a hose can be attached when fighting fires). DARPA main objective in producing ATLAS is to eliminate casualties to the emergency response teams that are first on disaster zones. Another key feature of ATLAS is that it does not need to be remote controlled, which comes in handy in areas where the terrain may render radio communication useless. The robot’s head is fitted with LIDAR, a remote sensing technology that uses a LASER to measure distance.
Despite all these advances on the use of robots for emergency response, there are still some major hurdles that it has to overcome before being accepted by society. A major factor would be the lack of a conscience. As can be seen in the movie I, Robot, a robot is designed to help the person or respond to a situation where the probability of success is high and not based on whether the person that ends up getting abandoned is a child or whether the disaster that the robots do not respond to wipes out half a country. There has to still be an element of human control and until artificial intelligence is developed to a level at par with that of a human brain, it is going to be a long time before anyone sees a robot save a damsel in distress from a burning building.
 Falconer, Jason. 11 June 2013. “Honda Developing Disaster Response Robot Based on ASIMO.” <http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/honda-new-disaster-humanoid-robot> 9 March 2014.
 Kelly, Heather. 16 July 2013. “Meet DARPA’s 6’2” Disaster-Response Robot.” CNN. <http://whatsnext.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/16/meet-darpas-62-disaster-response-robot/> 9 March 2014.