“We anticipate that by 2015 robots will be fully integrated in 25 percent of first-responder teams,” she says. There are already some 300 emergency response teams in the U.S. that use robots to some degree, she says, including those in major cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as those in smaller cities and towns like Akron, OH.
A competition to determine the best-of-breed first responder robots
An important moment for many robotics developers will come this December, when the Defense Advanced Research and Planning Agency (DARPA) will hold the first of two remaining Robotics Challenges to identify the most capable ground-based first-responder robots. The machine contestants will be judged on criteria like how well they drive and exit a vehicle, walk through a pile of rubble, remove rocks from a doorway, climb a ladder, and break through a rock wall to find and close a leaking valve. The winner will receive $2 million.
The global competition, which started in 2012 and ends in late 2014, involves bots from a wide range of companies, universities, and governments. Most entries look humanoid, with two legs and arms—a logical design for performing human-like functions in spaces created by humans—but not all of them. One four-legged model built by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called the RoboSimian, incorporates the radial symmetry of a starfish with the aesthetic profile of a giant bug.
The NASA scientists, with their expertise gleaned from having built three robots that have successfully motored and drilled their way around Mars, may be tough to beat. But regardless of who wins, robots have climbed and motored their way to become a primary tool of first responders, and their use will undoubtedly grow. “We have aggressive forecasts on this,” Eustis says. “It's just really getting started.”
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