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UJI takes part in a European project to create firefighter robot

The heroes of the future will not be human beings but robots. At least that is the idea of the European Commission, which has entrusted a consortium of robotics specialists – including scientists from the Intelligent Robotics group at the Universitat Jaume I – with the task of developing automata capable of helping in the most dangerous situations faced by emergency teams such as fire brigades.

The project, which goes under the name of Guardians, will last three years and has a budget of 2,715,000 euros. In addition to the Universitat Jaume I team, universities and companies from Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Portugal and Turkey will work on the project.

“Guardians are a swarm of autonomous robots applied to navigate and search in potentially dangerous urban ground”, researchers explain. This may be a building full of smoke or an industrial warehouse where toxic substances have been released. Under these circumstances, where the risks firefighters face on entering the building are unknown, the guardian robots will act as a reconnaissance party capable of collecting data and forwarding them to a control station. With this information, firefighters will be able to assess potential danger and decide on the best strategy to be followed to tackle the problem.

To this end, robots will be equipped not only with cameras and microphones, but also with sophisticated sensors that can measure the chemical composition of the environment in order to detect the presence of dangerous chemical substances.

“Guardians will be applied to dangerous situations. For example, if an accident takes place inside a chemical plant or a company working with dangerous materials in such a way that there is a risk of intoxication or explosion, robots – instead of two or three people – can initially be sent in to measure air, temperature and other factors that may indicate how safe the conditions are”, explains Enric Cervera, coordinator of the UJI team.

The Guardians project has a markedly practical aim. For this reason the consortium is made up of robotics companies and a British fire and rescue service as well as the universities.

The project’s central example is an industrial warehouse in smoke where toxics may be released and human senses can be severely impaired. In this situation, in addition to the risk of intoxication, people can get disoriented and lost. The robots will warn of toxic chemicals, provide and maintain mobile communication links, infer information on location and assist in searching. “In this way, the robots will enhance operational safety and speed and thus indirectly save lives”, researchers conclude.

Hugo Cerdà | alfa
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