Video: Team Taps Robotics to Build a Better First Response

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When a building collapses, first responders are often grappling to find their way through rubble, unaware of a potential looming danger or structural instability.

So, why not send in a team of robots first to map out the area?

That concept recently inspired three Fordham undergraduates to develop a computer program that enhances autonomous exploration of disaster sites by robots. The students, Rose Hill senior Alina Kenealy and Lincoln Center juniors Nicholas Primiano and Alex Keyes, presented their findings in February at SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics conference.

Damian Lyons, Ph.D., associate professor of computer and information sciences, mentors the students.

The team worked on writing algorithms that would enable computerized robots to quickly disburse throughout a site and work independently, while still coordinating as a team.

“First responders have an extremely dangerous job,” said Lyons. “They are going into a disaster area and they don’t know what is out there. Our objective is to have this team of robots very quickly go out and map this area to see where’s the unstable masonry, where are the holes in the floor, where are the potential victims, where are the clear paths—and do it all within a matter of minutes.”

As the SPIE conference attracts many graduate students, faculty researchers, and members of the defense industry, Lyons said it was a significant accomplishment for undergraduate research to be accepted.

“But it is a commitment we have made here, to enable undergraduates to see the excitement of the field rather than just sitting in a classroom. They took the ball and ran with it, and produced some tremendous results.”

 

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