They don’t have proper names yet, so for now their engineer creators are simply calling them D2 and D3. "We’ll be changing that at INTERSCHUTZ, if not sooner, I promise!" said Robert Grafe. Grafe is the CEO of the German Rescue Robotics Center (DRZ), Dortmund, currently the only institution of its kind in Germany engaging in research into future technologies and the further development of AI-based rescue systems. The DRZ coordinates the deployment of D2 and D3, two robots that will one day be indispensable as helpers for rescue responders working in hazardous situations.

D2 and D3 don’t exactly look like robots in the SciFi movie sense of humanoid forms with arms and legs. More like mini bulldozers. And the silver screen isn’t their thing, either, though they did star in a recent episode of an ARD popular science show.

The robots are designed for a wide range of tasks that involve protecting and assisting rescue first-responders in hazardous environments, such as fires, collapsed buildings and floods. To enable this, they can be fitted with a range of task-specific modules. For example, equipped with cameras, they can generate three-dimensional images of the situation inside a collapsed building; using a thermal imaging camera, they can locate victims trapped beneath rubble; and in accident situations involving hazardous goods they can collect liquids and other materials and transfer samples of them to a waiting roll-off container for analysis. They can also handle the more dangerous aspects of sealing hazardous liquid or gas leaks, thereby enabling their human counterparts to stay out of harm’s way.

Live debut at INTERSCHUTZ

"Let’s be clear, robots are not a replacement for human firefighters and never will be," Grafe said. "Their role is purely to serve as technical assistants, helping to minimize the risks and hazards that human first responders are exposed to. Of course, in certain cases they can be the difference between life and death." D2 and D3 will be making their live debut in front of an international audience at INTERSCHUTZ. They will be in Hall 17 at a joint display organized by the Dortmund Fire Department Institute of Fire Service and Rescue Technology (IFR). Visitors to the display will be able to take a look through a new type of robotics command vehicle and learn about the DRZ and what it does.

A key part of what the DRZ does happens in its Living Lab, an innovative facility in which multidisciplinary teams from research, development and testing can collaborate on projects under real-life conditions. The lab has large-scale indoor and outdoor test areas where new robotics-based rescue systems can be put to the test by their intended users.

The DRZ was established two years ago when it became clear to emergency-sector stakeholders that mobile robotics systems offered significant potential for improving safety in hazardous incident situations. It is the incorporated arm of a government-funded project which has been allocated just on 12 million euros for an initial period of four years and which is spearheaded by an alliance of technology users, industrial companies, universities and research institutions. The long-term objective of the DRZ is to build up a permanent center of scientific expertise that partners with other organizations to drive innovation, thereby ensuring that there is always a steady flow of tested and proven first-responder robotics technology entering the market.

The research alliance at the heart of the project is coordinated by the Dortmund Fire Department Institute of Fire Service and Rescue Technology. This is important, because it will ensure that the robotics solutions developed by the project meet the needs of fire and rescue practice. At the very start of the project, 13 alliance partners from research, industry and technology user organizations founded the German Rescue Robotics Center as the legally incorporated organization under which they will develop and operate the center of expertise and facilitate its long-term expansion.

"We want to drive product development, set the necessary standards and facilitate the widespread use of robots in protective and rescue applications," said DRZ executive board member Dirk Aschenbrenner, who is the Director of the Dortmund Fire Department. "And to achieve that, we need to do everything we can to build collaborative networks across first responders, users, companies and research institutions in the rescue robotics space. In that sense, INTERSCHUTZ is the perfect platform to grow awareness of the DRZ across organizational boundaries. Of course, we are always keen to talk to people from these types of organizations who are interested in getting to know us, or even joining us."

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