Robot swarms could be used in search and rescue: expert

Researchers at Monsah Uni are developing technologies that enable flying robots to swarm using wireless communications

Monash University Wireless Sensors and Robot Networks lab co-director Doctor Jan Carlo Barca holding a quadcopter. Photo supplied by Monash University.

Monash University Wireless Sensors and Robot Networks lab co-director Doctor Jan Carlo Barca holding a quadcopter. Photo supplied by Monash University.

Flying and ground-based robots, which could potentially help search and rescue organisations, are under development at Monash University’s Swarm Robotics lab.

Swarm robotics makes use of principles observed in insect colonies, flocks of birds and physics to co-ordinate the behaviour of groups of robots.

The Robotics lab will collaborate with the university’s Wireless Sensors and Robot Networks (WSRN) laboratory to produce swarm robotics technologies. These technologies enable groups of flying and ground-moving robots to co-ordinate their behaviours -- using wireless communication technology -- and transmit information about their environment back to a base station.

WSRN co-director Doctor Jan Carlo Bacra said the technologies could be used to search for objects, people and pollution.

“We have chosen to focus on search and rescue in disaster sites, as this will enable us to assist rescue workers in saving human lives,” he said in a statement.

For example, the robots could aid rescue workers tasked with locating people in environments where global positioning systems (GPS) do not work. This may be in regions where smoke obstructs the view from satellites, partially collapsed buildings and cities where structures impede the view from the sky.

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Barca predicted that over the next 20 years swarm robotics will evolve in such a way that humans will be able “feel present” at a remote location via robots, and experience a phenomenon known as ‘multi-presence’.

“If there were multiple robots then you could be made to feel that you are at the locations of all the robots simultaneously, hence multi-presence,” he said.

“One simple example is when a guard in a control room looks at many screens that display live footage captured from multiple security cameras.”

Bacra hopes that by 2014 the robotics technology will be advanced enough to carry out tasks that can aid in search and rescue efforts.

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