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Mobile Robots Master Disasters

Roboter Projekt SmokeBot
© Leibniz Universität Hannover

Dangerous, confusing accident scenarios such as fires in buildings or tunnels present rescue forces with great challenges. In the "SmokeBot" project at the University of Hanover, a robot has been developed that can be used even under the most adverse conditions.

"The robot is a prototype," says Prof. Dr.-Ing. Wagner from the University of Hanover. "Until it can actually be used in tunnel accidents, major fires, bomb deactivation or poison gas attacks, software and hardware must still be optimized for the harsh operating conditions.

The approach is very promising: The fusion of the various sensors - cameras, laser scanners, depth cameras, and radar - is so far unique. Specially developed rotating radar sensors are used for the first time in such a system. They are robust in poor visibility conditions and can be used when conventional cameras and laser scanners reach their limits.

However, the radar sensors provide comparatively inaccurate measurement values. Therefore, the challenge is to combine the radar signals with the data still usable from laser scanners and thermal imaging cameras in order to create the most accurate model possible of the environment.

“Electronic noses" are also used. They are gas detectors which can provide an early warning of hazards that may arise. "A heat shield is also integrated, which folds open in extreme temperature conditions and protects the robot," explains Bernardo Wagner. The system's data can also be combined and compared with emergency plans and fire brigade maps.

In June, the robot developed by the Real-Time Systems Department of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Leibniz Universität Hannover will be tested under real conditions in a fire exercise house of the Dortmund Fire Department. Besides universities and industrial partners from Sweden, Austria, and the United Kingdom as well as the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Technology (FHR), the Dortmund Fire Department is one of the cooperation partners in the project.

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