USF robot can differentiate between living and dead

When the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001, Dr. Robin Murphy and three graduate students traveled to New York City with six search and rescue robots to parse the debris left by the fallen buildings for survivors — the first known use of robots for urban search and rescue.

Murphy realized, however, that the search was hampered by the robots’ inability to distinguish between living and dead victims buried in the rubble.

This week at the 25th Annual International Disaster Management Conference, Murphy, director of USF’s Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, will unveil search and rescue robots equipped with a new medical sensor to solve the problem.

“With the new sensor, the robots can now tell the difference between a dead and living victim,” Murphy said in a news release. “The sensor allows rescue workers to focus their efforts where they matter most — finding living disaster victims. Once a victim is found in rubble, it may take up to 10 rescuers between four and 10 hours to get them out. You just don’t have enough people or time to rescue a dead victim. The new sensor will help rescuers determine if a victim is alive, saving rescuers valuable time and, ultimately, saving lives.”

Murphy’s work at the World Trade Center and her experiences at other disaster scenes in nearly a decade of working with search and rescue robots spurred her efforts to build the robot.

“I started working with search and rescue robots after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995,” Murphy said. “The building of the robots with these new medical sensors started in 2001, after the World Trade Center attacks.”

CRASAR researcher Eric Rasmussen originally developed the new sensor, which touches a part of the victim’s body and checks for a pulse. Rasmussen built the sensor as a prototype for the Marine Corps’ Chemical Biological Incident Report Force.

“When the U.S. Marines Corps’ biological response team, who are the people who deal with weapons of mass destruction threats, have to deal with an anthrax threat, they will go into a hazardous area with their protective suits on. Those suits are basically the same as the suits astronauts wore on the moon. So with those thick gloves on, you can’t take a pulse or check if a victim is breathing. These sensors, without the robots, could be used then,” Murphy said.

The conference, which will be held at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, will begin Thursday. Murphy’s demonstration will be a part of the Disaster 2004 exhibit Friday, and she will also speak Sunday morning, the final day of the conference.