Survivor Buddy, a friendly robot rescuer

The St. Petersburg Times, Florida, reports that a well-known robot designer, Robin Murphy, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of South Florida (USF), 'plans to add a heart to robot rescuers.' As says USF, the goal is to develop 'a robot that will be a companion to a person who may be trapped after a car crash or in building ruins following an earthquake, or someone pinned down by sniper fire.' As said Murphy, 'robots can provide not only a sense of being a 'buddy' by playing soothing music or providing other entertainment, the robot also can be the audio and video link between survivor and family.' Murphy will develop this robot with some money coming from Microsoft. But read more...

The St. Petersburg Times, Florida, reports that a well-known robot designer, Robin Murphy, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of South Florida (USF), 'plans to add a heart to robot rescuers.' As says USF, the goal is to develop 'a robot that will be a companion to a person who may be trapped after a car crash or in building ruins following an earthquake, or someone pinned down by sniper fire.' As said Murphy, 'robots can provide not only a sense of being a 'buddy' by playing soothing music or providing other entertainment, the robot also can be the audio and video link between survivor and family.' Murphy will develop this robot with some money coming from Microsoft. But read more...

Robin Murphy's robot rescuers

You can see on the left some of these rescue robots previously developed by Robin Murphy, which were deployed at the World Trade Center following the terrorist attacks of 9-11 or on the Mississippi coast after Hurricane Katrina. "Her 'marsupial robot' is a real pack rat -- a larger mother robot that shuttles three 'baby' robots closer to the scene." (Credit: Bay Soundings, Florida, Spring 2006, in an article from Mary Kelley Hoppe, "Borrowing Ideas from Nature").

Robin Murphy is a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at USF. She also is the director of the Institute for Safety Security Rescue Technology (ISSRT) and of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR). She's working on this project with Clifford Nass, professor of communication at Stanford University.

Here is an excerpt from the St. Petersburg Times article about this project. "The Survivor Buddy would act as an emergency companion to people stuck in the crossfire of snipers or under the rubble of an earthquake-ravaged building like the ones now littering China. She envisions a robot that plays soothing music to trapped victims and features a monitor showing the faces of loved ones and rescuers trying to reach them. It will deliver water and transmit a victim's vital signs to doctors. And it should be friendly, she said. 'It's a relatively small grant, but it gives us a chance to jump-start these crazy ideas and this hardware,' said Murphy, 50. 'This money is hard to come by because this idea of human-robot interaction has only recently been recognized as an important scientific field.'"

The article really focuses on Murphy's life -- and some of her frustrations about the recent Myanmar cyclone and the China earthquake. "She is too far away to help, and those countries don't have ready access to robots like hers. 'This technology exists, but they need it in China, in Australia, all over,' she said. 'My dream is that one day you'll see rescuers and dogs at a disaster site, but if you don't see a robot you'll say, 'Where are they?' because they'll have become so commonplace. They'll do things dogs and people can't.'"

For more information about the human-robot interaction projects awards granted by Microsoft, here is a link to a press release, "Microsoft Research Explores 'Robots Among Us'" (May 16, 2008).

Here is the description of Murphy's project. "The main focus of this group is the assistance of humans who will be dependent on a robot for long periods of time. One function is to provide two-way audio communication between the survivor and the emergency response personnel. Other ideas are being studied, such as playing therapeutic music with a beat designed to regulate heartbeats or breathing. The idea is that a web-enabled, multi-media robot allows: 1) the survivor to take some control over the situation and find a soothing activity while waiting for extrication; and 2) responders to support and influence the state of mind of the victim."

Below is the list of the 8 winning projects, selected from 74 submissions from academic researchers from 24 countries. Details are provided in the press release.

  • Snackbot: A Service Robot (Jodi Forlizzi and Sara Kiesler, Carnegie Mellon University)
  • Human-Robot-Human Interface for an autonomous vehicle in challenging environments (Ioannis Rekleitis and Gregory Dudek, McGill University, Canada)
  • Personal Digital Interfaces for Intelligent Wheelchairs (Nicholas Roy,Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Human-Robot Interaction to Monitor Climate Change via Networked Robotic Observatories (Dezhen Song, Texas A&M University, and Ken Goldberg, University of California, Berkeley)
  • FaceBots: Robots utilizing and publishing social information in FaceBook (Nikolaos Mavridis and Tamer Rabie, United Arab Emirates University)
  • Multi-Touch Human-Robot Interaction for Disaster Response (Holly Yanco, University of Massachusetts)
  • Survivor Buddy: A Web-Enabled Robot as a Social Medium for Trapped Victims (Robin Murphy, University of South Florida) (But of course, you knew it already.)
  • Prosody Recognition for Human-Robot Interaction (Brian Scassellati, Yale University)

Sources: Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, St. Petersburg Times, Florida, May 16, 2008; and various websites

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