Large scale disasters whether man-made or natural are a fact of life. Rescuers always have a difficult time locating and extracting survivors (the recent situations in earthquake ravaged China and hurricane stricken Burma are prime examples of this.) Robots offer much promise in making the job of rescuers easier helping save the lives of many people. Professor Robin Murphy from the University of South Florida has spent much of her time trying to develop effective rescue robots. Her robots have navigated the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York city after the 9/11 attacks and the darkest depths of the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah last year trying to help rescuers locate six trapped mine workers. While most rescue robotics research is focused on the development of semi-autonomous robots that can reach deep into disaster zones where human and animal workers cannot go in an effort to locate survivors, Murphy’s new robot called the Survivor Buddy will take a different approach.
Survivor Buddy will be an emotional robot designed to keep victims company while rescuers try to reach them. Robots have been shown to be good companions for the elderly and Murphy believes that can do the same for disaster victims. More specifically (source,)
The Survivor Buddy would act as an emergency companion to people stuck in the crossfire of snipers or under the rubble of an earthquake-ravaged building like the ones now littering China.
She envisions a robot that plays soothing music to trapped victims and features a monitor showing the faces of loved ones and rescuers trying to reach them. It will deliver water and transmit a victim’s vital signs to doctors. And it should be friendly, she said.
Professor Murphy has received a $500K research grant from Microsoft to start work on developing the new emotional rescue robots. Survivor Buddy is one of 8 projects selected as part of Microsoft’s “Robots Among Us” research award on social robots. Microsoft is trying to encourage researchers to use their Robotics Studio platform via the distribution of awards which is a nice hook considering the difficulty researchers have in obtaining the necessary monetary support for their research programs. Whether this is ethical or not is a story for another post but as long as something good comes out of it, for example, effective rescue robots, then I guess we can all look the other way.