My primary research is in artificial intelligence for mobile robots as applied to disaster robotics. As my analyses have shown that 50% of the terminal failures in disaster robotics are due to human error, a significant portion of my work is in human-robot interaction. My research uses a field methodology, working with responders and agency stakeholders to determine gaps that lead to the formulation of applied and fundamental research thrusts. We have participated in 18 disasters or incidents and over 35 exercises gathering data spanning urban search and rescue, structural inspection, hurricanes, flooding, mudslides, mine disasters, radiological events, and wilderness search and rescue.
Disaster deployments: see the materials at the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue crasar.org
Our fundamental research covers:
- Human-robot interaction. One theme is how distributed team members can use natural user interfaces to communicate with the robot and with other decision makers in real-time. We can predict unsafe human factors pre-conditions using our shared roles model without the extensive task and user model required by methods such as SOAR. Our Skywriter interface for small UAVs that allows a user with no experience to exploit a visual common ground with the robot and robot Pilot and use sketch, pointing, and multi-touch. It has been licensed. Another theme is our Survivor Buddy project which explores how trapped victims will react to a rescue robot, how victims can use gestures to control their "buddy robot" and how medical practitioners will use robots. Our work in UAVs for evacuation discovered that people don't appear to respond to UAVs the same way they do to ground robots, which introduces safety concerns.
- Autonomy. Our work follows the behavior-based robotics paradigm, using insights from cognitive and biological studies of intelligence. One theme is how to share responsibility of autonomous roles between the human and robot, especially what autonomous capabilities must the robot reliably perform as the human cannot react fast enough or would require more manpower. One theme is fault detection and recovery, using AI generate-and-test methods to rapidly recover, deferring fault identification to after the robot is in a safe state. Another theme is determining appropriate path planning strategies for working in three dimensions, either ground robots searching a collapsed building, a marine vehicle inspecting the substructure of a bridge, or a UAV inspecting a building or mudslide. We conducted the first work in marsupial robots and our AirJoey theme is exploring how to use a small UAV or UGV to provide external viewpoints to help a primary robot perform complex tasks such as opening a door.
- Dimensionless numbers and metrics for capturing field performance. Our work has established metrics for traversability that are independent of the scale of the robot and environment. We have identified constraints that impede the actual deployment of a robot in the field. We have created new methods for field work, including viewpoint-oriented cognitive work analysis and a formal computational model of the data-to-decision process.
Another way to think about our research is by platform. We work with ground, aerial, and marine vehicles. Because we are a field robotics group and deploy to disasters, we prefer to using commercially available, hardened robots rather than build our own. We often use platforms donated through the CRASAR Roboticists Without Borders program.
- Small unmanned aerial vehicles. We work with both small fixed-wing and rotor-craft having the first deployment of either for a disaster (Hurricane Katrina). Our ongoing outdoor rotor-craft work since 2005 has concentrated on structural inspection (flying with 10 feet of structures with GPS denied) and indoor flight, hazardous materials spills including chemical and radiological since 2011, and geospatial reconstruction of flooding, debris, and other elements of disasters since 2013. Our indoor rotor-craft work is split between general indoor navigation and using SUAS for evacuation.
- Man-packable and man-portable ground vehicles. Our UGV work focuses on autonomy and UGV-UAV cooperation. Our newest work is in collaboration with CMU and Georgia Tech with snake robots working in granular materials (aka burrowing robots).
- Unmanned surface and underwater marine vehicles. Our UMV work focuses on underwater structural inspection, marsupial USV-ROV teams, and victim recovery. We also explore UMV-UAV teaming as a result of our experiences assisting with the Tohoku Tsunami response.
Calendar of Events
Topical Speaker, 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., Feb 11-15, 2016
Invited Speaker, National Competitiveness Forum (NCF) 2015, Washington, D.C., Dec 4, 2015
Speaker, Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Nov 16, 2015
Speaker, 'Unmanned Marine Vehicles at Disasters', EMRA: EU-funded Marine Robotics and Applications Workshop, Croatia, Oct 5-11, 2015
Opening Keynote Speaker, 'Drones: Disaster Angels, not Military Devils', DroneApps, Lausanne, Switzerland, Sept 14, 2015
Speaking Tour of Japan, 'The Future of U.S.-Japan Robotics Cooperation: Opening New Economic Development, State Department Tokyo Embassy, Sept 6-12, 2015
ICARUS Land Demonstration, Brussels, Sept 4, 2015
Invited Speaker, 'Robotics and Automation Technologies for Humanitarian Applications: Where we are & Where we can be', ICRA 2015, May 26, 2015
Keynote Speaker, RoboUniverse Conference & Expo, May 11-13, 2015
Distinguished Speaker, 'Disaster Robotics: Capturing Diverse Human-Robot Interaction', ISR 2015, UC Irvine, May 1, 2015
Robot Petting Zoo, SXSW Interactive, March 15-17, 2015
Invited speaker, Telerobotics for Real-Life Applications Workshop, IROS 2014, Sept 18, 2014
Session Keynote, IROS 2014, Sept 16, 2014
Speaker, Beyond Search and Rescue: Unmanned Systems for Rapid Recovery, World Reconstruction Conference 2, Sept 10, 2014
Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue and Emergency Informatics.
2014 National Hurricane Conference, Apr 17, 2014
Disaster Robotics Book Signing, SXSW, Mar 11, 2014
Drones: Policy, Privacy, and Public Safety
SouthXSouthwest, Austin, Mar 10, 2014
Lessons Learned Flipping a Class to Get More Hands-on Time
, Teaching With Technology Conference, Feb 26, 2014
Emergency Informatics at Texas A&M, University of Central Florida
, Feb 21, 2014