Hazardous scenarios in environments with poor visibility - such as disasters in tunnels filled with thick smoke and rapidly increasing heat - present major challenges to fire and rescue teams. The plan is now to deploy mobile robots whenever things get too dangerous for humans. But this is easier said than done, as existing models quickly run into problems under harsh ambient conditions. One reason is that rescue robots’ cameras and laser scanners can no longer provide reliable results once smoke, dust, fog, rain or snow sets in. This led scientists from the Real Time Systems Group at LUH’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to join forces with national and international partners to develop a mobile robot that can be deployed even in hostile environments, called the SmokeBot.
"The combination of the different sensors is completely new," explains Prof. Bernardo Wagner, from the Real Time Systems Group, who is leading the project. "The robot is a prototype - the software and hardware still need enhancing for harsh conditions before it can be used for real-life tunnel disasters, blazing fires, bomb disposal operations or poison gas attacks," he adds. The group's highly ambitious idea to link different sensors - cameras, laser scanners, depth cameras and radars - could well break entirely new ground. The specially developed rotating radar sensors are particularly unique in any such system. However, they still provide imprecise measurements when compared with conventional cameras and laser scanners. The challenge therefore lies in amalgamating these radar signals with the data from laser scanners and thermal cameras that is still usable under harsh conditions to replicate the area as precisely as possible. "Electronic noses" - in other words, gas sensors - will also quickly warn of emerging risks. "If temperatures start to seriously escalate, a built-in thermal shield opens up and protects the robot," explains Prof. Wagner. The system's data can reportedly be combined and compared with fire service contingency plans and maps.
The robot is set to be tested under real conditions in the Dortmund fire service training center this June. Dortmund fire service is just one of the partners - alongside the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques (FHR) as well as universities and industrial companies from Sweden, Austria and the UK - involved in the SmokeBot project, which is funded by the EU's Horizon 2020 program.
Leibniz University Hannover - Institute of Systems Engineering - Real Time Systems Group (30167 Hannover, Germany)