Adtec Communications specialises in a range of systems designed for emergency alerting, disaster recovery, business community and communication.
The use of robots for reconnaissance and diffusing bombs is common and as robot technology improves, their use is also increasing.
Interest in robots is also growing among the first responder community. Robots could be used in a number of situations where it is simply too dangerous or not physically possible to send in a human.
Situations that involve hazardous chemicals, building collapses, tunnel and mineshaft collapses as well as examining suspicious vehicles, packages and buildings are all likely scenarios where robots could be applied by first responders.
However, while the potential for robots to provide search and rescue assistance to first responders is viable, there are still a number of hurdles that need to be overcome before they can be effectively deployed according to Dr Kate Remley, Electronics Engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Colorado, USA.
According to Dr Remley, many robots are controlled using a tether (a sort of wire that sends video back from the robot to the operator), but in an ideal situation first responders would prefer to use robots wirelessly so that they can move about freely.
Currently there are three main impediments to having robots travel wirelessly.
The first is a reduction in signal strength between the operator and the robot once it is inside a building or down a tunnel. The signal level between the operator and the robot is reduced, impairing the operator’s control over the robot.
Another impediment is called multi-path, which involves reflections of signals bouncing off buildings and other structures. This can cause interference with wireless signals and communications in particular.
Interference is also caused when wireless devices transmit on the same frequency and interfere with a signal being transmitted by a responder who is trying to control a robot.
Currently it is possible for a wireless home network to get entangled in an emergency response scenario because it is operating on the same frequency band as the robot.
A further problem is that if first responders wanted to deploy more than one robot it is quite likely that interference would occur between the robot's signals.
Apart from the issues associated with wireless links of robots there are also other performance hurdles, which need to be overcome if they are to be successfully deployed.
At the very minimum, robots need to be able to operate effectively on a slanted plane, manoeuvre up and down stairs, find their way in the dark, recognise objects as well as be able to transmit data under various environmental conditions.
“In the case of the emergency responder, they really need to know that the robot operates close to 100%, without slowing down, falling over or dropping data,” said Dr Remley.
“But there is no doubt that robots have the possibility of really helping the first response community. It's a case of when, not if,” she added.