First responders at a disaster scene could control a robot from a nearby command center to go into the field and turn off a gas valve.
Engineers at the University of Washington have developed telerobotics technology that will make disaster response faster and more efficient.
The group is looking to develop robots that can interact more seamlessly with human operators. The technology lets a robot operator actually feel feedback in the form of pressure on his or her hand controller from a robot on the ground. This force feedback can help the operator avoid objects and realize when the robot's arm has reached its limits.
For example, a first responder at a disaster scene could control a robot from a nearby command center to go into the field and turn off a gas valve. The responder could see on a computer screen from the robot's field of vision and steer it toward the valve. When the robot approaches the correct valve, it would send force feedback to help the human operator make a safe and efficient valve turn.
"We are trying to show that these robotics and communication system can be used by anyone. It's really about making something that's simple to use," Ryden said.
Using a robot from National Instruments, based in Austin, Texas, the UW engineering team mounted a camera and high-end router to allow the human operator to see from the robot's perspective. The idea is for the human to feel immersed in the robot's landscape, seeing depth and real-time movements and receiving force feedback from the robot.
This telerobotics technology, combined with the other smart systems, could help with future disaster responses and even create jobs, particularly for veterans, team leaders said. The robotics technology itself is not complicated to operate and could be used by anyone, not just highly trained technicians.
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