NIST puts rescue robots through trials

How is a playing field both level and precipitous at the same time? Answer: When it's NIST's rescue robot testing facility.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology debuted the test facility at a rescue robot exercise in Disaster City, Texas, in November. The exercise, sponsored by the Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology Directorate, was designed to help NIST develop performance standards for robots for use in urban search and rescue missions. About three dozen robots were tested by developers and first responders in order to develop a standard suite of performance tests to help evaluate robotic rescue devices that perform such functions as entering collapsed structures to search for survivors and performing tests for hazardous chemicals.

'It is critical for developers to be able to compare results, which is not possible without reproducible test environments,' Elena Messina, acting chief of NIST's Intelligent Systems Division, said. 'So, we have reproducible rough terrain that everyone can build in their labs, whereas you can't reproduce a rubble pile. This way, developers in Japan can run tests, and people in Chicago can understand what the robot achieved.'

The robots were put through a series of tests, including performing figure eights on an undulating terrain, climbing steps, climbing ramps, and ascending steps with unequal gaps. The robots were also challenged by a new mapping test in which the device was required to traverse a simulated 'wooded area' with uneven terrain and create a map using its sensors.

Videos of the robots in action can be seen here.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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