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Robotics Respond in Alpine Rescue Missions

For decades the world has seen Alpine disasters that leave hikers stranded in the subzero, mountainous terrain without immediate rescue due to dangerous conditions for search teams. Each year, tens of climbers die in the European alps and life-threatening storms are growing more and more frequent. Fortunately the SHERPA project, short for Smart collaboration between Humans and ground-aErial Robots for imProving rescuing activities in Alpine environments, is implementing research and development for rescue missions in hostile environments through the development and use of human-robot interactions. 

The project began in 2013 and will continue on until January 2017. This $14 million, four year commitment will research and build both ground and aerial robotic platforms in order to help humans and machines work together for search and rescue missions. The project is supported by a European Community consisting of 10 partners, including seven top academic groups, two companies and one association. By its end date, scientists are hopeful that the robots developed will be used to save lives.

Last week was the first SHERPA Integration Week, where researchers from different fields of the project met to discuss and analyze the data gathered thus far. The research was then tested and integrated to maintain a focus on communication, project guidelines and Human-Robot Interactions.

Real-world scenarios have inspired five benchmarks to drive the research and motivate demonstration activities on realistic testing sites planned during the project, states the SHERPA Project summary. These scenarios, including post-avalanche situations and other Alpine disasters, where autonomous robotics will be used to help locate missing persons and keep rescuers out of harms way.

At the Integration Week held at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, the flying robots were officially tested for the first time. Two main demonstrations came from mini-wasps as the robots executed voice commands from their human counterpart and then coordinated operations. Autonomous navigation skills were also displayed by the fixed-wing hawk robots at a local airfield.

With Nepal on track for its deadliest climbing season ever and climate experts predicting more natural disasters, the potential benefits of this project are only increasing. The broader funding and research of robotics projects like SHERPA highlight the opportunities for collaboration between humans and robots to improve safety and general quality of life.

 

Contributed by Erica Allaby

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