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Press Release

Contact:
Lisa L. Kirchner
412-268-2900

Anne Watzman
412-268-3830

For immediate release:
April 24, 2003

Carnegie Mellon to Demonstrate New Search-and-Rescue Robots at RoboCup American Open Competition

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University researchers and their colleagues from other institutions will demonstrate teams of urban search-and-rescue robots in a special "disaster arena" developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) during the RoboCup American Open robot soccer competition being held at the university April 30-May 4.

Search-and-rescue demonstrations will take place hourly May 2 and 3 in Rangos Hall at the University Center on the Carnegie Mellon campus.

The semi-autonomous, interactive, teleoperated robots will be put through their paces in a two-level site replete with dim lighting and lifelike mannequins that give off heat and carbon dioxide and utter cries of distress so that the robots working with human rescuers can find them. The site contains rubble, mirrors, stairs and other obstacles to simulate the challenging environments robots may encounter when searching for disaster victims. "It's a human-robot disaster team," said Illah Nourbakhsh, assistant professor of robotics and one of the organizers of this event. "We're designing robots that will demonstrate the convergence of robot design and artificial intelligence."

The disaster arena is one of only three of its kind in the world today and the only one housed at a U.S. university. Carnegie Mellon researchers will make it available to colleagues working on the same problem at other institutions.

"We want to make this resource available so that standards can begin to be developed in search-and-rescue technology, allowing the field to move ahead more quickly," explained NIST engineer Elena Messina.

The NIST arena addresses the standardization issue by creating a disaster site that's reproducible, said Nourbakhsh, one of three scientists who received a National Science Foundation grant to conduct urban search-and-rescue research. The others are Katia Sycara, principal research scientist in the Robotics Institute and Michael Lewis, associate professor, School of Information Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Urban search and rescue is a prime domain for research on cooperative efforts of robots, software agents and human (RAP) teams," Sycara said. "The research must consider the heterogeneity of the actors and also organizational boundaries. The groups end up sharing research throughout the process. Eventually, when disasters happen, the use of robots will minimize risk to search-and-rescue workers while increasing victim survival rates."

According to Lewis, perceptual issues have presented the greatest challenge in robotic rescue work, such as that done at the World Trade Center site. To address this, he is leading efforts on a portion of the demonstrations that involve simulators. Several simulators will be placed on the perimeter of the disaster site, enabling the public to interact directly with a simulated search-and-rescue arena via the "Unreal" video game engine (Epic Games). Lewis said the "Unreal" engine was chosen because it provides sophisticated 3-D graphics and a variety of specialized tools that people can use to work through the simulation.

Demonstration attendees will be able to control a robot as it searches for victims, and researchers will compile usage data from their experiences to help determine their preferences and the success rates of various tools that could be used for search and rescue.

Nourbakhsh and his team have developed a new kind of search-and-rescue robot for this event. He described it as "bicycle wheels with a brain." They will concentrate especially on issues of going up and down stairs. Others participating in the search-and-rescue demonstrations are Howard M. Choset, Carnegie Mellon associate professor of mechanical engineering who has developed robots configured like snakes that are proficient at working their way into hard to reach places, the university Robotics Club and a team from University of Utah.

Although this is an exhibition, teams will be scored by NIST experts on their performance. Scoring will be based on navigational issues such as traversing stairways. The goal of the RoboCup Search-and-Rescue League is to produce robots by 2050 that can autonomously negotiate compromised or collapsed structures, find victims and ascertain their condition, produce practical maps of their locations, deliver sustenance and communications, identify hazards and provide structural shoring.

For information on the American Open, see www.AmericanOpen03.org

For the NIST arena, see www.isd.cme.nist.gov/projects/USAR

Downloadable photographs, video and sound are available at the Web site.

Sponsors of the RoboCup American Open03 include:
American Honda Motor Company, Inc.;
The Boeing Company;
Carnegie Science Center;
Coca-Cola; Comcast Cable Communications, Inc.;
The Hillman Company;
Intel Research;
Mobot Robotics LLC;
Parkhurst Dining Services;
Pittsburgh Technology Council;
PNC Bank, a member of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.;
RoboCup Federation;
Sony Entertainment Robot Company;
Westinghouse Electric Company.

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