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Frequently Asked Questions

How can you have a standard robot for urban search and rescue?

Can I participate in the standards process?

Where can I learn more about the urban search and rescue robot standards program?

What is the goal of these Responder/Robot Evaluation Exercises and how will they lead toward sales of my robot?

Are you grading my robots at the Responder/Robot Evaluation Exercises?

Who gets to attend these events?  

I want to demo my new whizbang gadget but I don't want it to get damaged. Can I bring it and just show it?

I have a new whizbang technology that responders should know about, but it's doesn't really have anything to do with robots? Can I bring it?  

Will this event produce purchase decisions for my robot?  

What Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is needed to participate in this event?  

How can you have a standard robot for urban search and rescue?
The goal of this program is NOT to develop standards to govern robot technologies. Rather, this program is working toward generating standard test methods to quantify robot performance related to specifically articulated requirements. This program will and generate measures of performance that emergency responders can relate to their task requirements. These test methods will measure performance in an objective, well defined way, using easily fabricated test apparatus so that manufacturers and developers can practice the test methods in their own facilities. Each test method will have an advertised range of acceptable performance levels defined by the emergency responders, from a minimum threshold to an objective level of performance, so that developers understand the useful range as defined by the ultimate customers. The results of the test methods will quantify such performance, without necessarily indicating good or bad results. The emergency responders will then be able to make informed trade-offs between their key variables such as performance, size, weight, cost, etc., to best address their envisioned task. 

Can I participate in the standards process?
Anyone with a stake in the development and use of robots, especially for emergency response, is encouraged to join the standards committee. This includes, but is not limited to: robot vendors, manufacturers, end users, technology developers, researchers, local, state, and federal response agencies, and other government agencies. The standards are being developed by ASTM International, under the E54.08.01 subcommittee.  

Where can I learn more about the urban search and rescue robot standards program?
The best place to start is the website:  www.isd.mel.nist.gov/US&R_Robot_Standards
This site contains the preliminary requirements report, calendar of events, reports from past events, including standards meetings, and other pertinent information. 

What is the goal of these Responder/Robot Evaluation Exercises and how will they lead toward sales of my robot?
Below is an outline of the expected path to procurement for robotic technologies that can be effectively applied to urban search and rescue tasks. Note, however, that this is not exclusively the case, since all the FEMA Task Force leaders and responders at these Responder/Robot Evaluation Exercises are members of local organizations every other day of the year; some from NY City, some from LA, etc. 

0. Emergency responders on our advisory panel produced an initial set of performance requirements for robots which could improve/augment their existing capabilities based on their experiences performing urban search and rescue. This was prior to much exposure, if any, to robotic technologies, so the emphasis was on gaps in their current capabilities that could potentially be addressed with robotic technologies. The 100 or so initial requirements can be found at www.isd.mel.nist.gov/US&R_Robot_Standards (Preliminary Report). 

1. Responder/Robot Evaluation Exercises are being conducted to introduce emerging robotic technologies to responders within relevant training environments. The scenarios used in these exercises are opportunities to highlight the utility or unique advantages that particular technologies may provide, and how they must be deployed to be useful.

2. Responders will augment their defined set of requirements with additional needed capabilities, adding requirements for particularly helpful robotic technologies, such as 3-D mapping of confined space voids for example, based on their assessment of these emerging technologies within their training environments. Prior to these events, they either didn't know about that particular technology, or never saw it working in their environments. 

3. Particularly "ripe" technologies demonstrated to be useful and survivable within responder training environments will get performance thresholds and objectives assigned by the responders as a group after each event, giving technology providers an envelope in which to provide solutions -- since differing levels of cost/performance may appeal to different response organizations or support specific roles/tasks (i.e. initial reconnaissance vs. structural assessment). Less "ripe" technologies that are considered on the path toward fieldable will get more general requirements written to help guide development. Both technologies will benefit from ongoing participation in these responder/robot evaluation exercises to guide development . 

4. Performance test methods will be developed for these "ripe" technologies to capture key performance criteria necessary to quantify/compare implementations. These test methods will not identify good/bad performance, rather they will objectively capture actual performance in a known (and practiced) test method to help guide applicability and purchasing decisions, etc. These performance test methods will ultimately be standardized in waves within ASTM International's Homeland Security portfolio. The first wave of standard test methods covering "ripe" technologies is due to be published in 2006. 

5. Robots and technologies that use these performance test methods to quantify their capabilities will be considered available for purchase with DHS funds. They will be included in a compendium which captures their performance test results and disseminated to FEMA and other response organizations to help guide trade-off and applicability decisions for purchasing. Note, however, that NIST cannot represent DHS's intent regarding the timing or funding of any grants to purchase robotic equipment. 

Are you grading my robots at the Responder/Robot Evaluation Exercises?
Robot performance is not formally captured at these events. The Disaster City event and others like it are meant to achieve several goals. (1) Responders are being introduced to robots and supporting technologies and are learning about what is and isn't feasible presently and what new technologies look promising and need associated performance requirements to be defined. (2) Robot developers and vendors are being exposed to the needs of the urban search and rescue community and are able to learn firsthand what responders like and don't like, and do so in realistic training environments. (3) Draft test methods for performance requirements are evaluated and refined by responders and robot developers prior to finalization within the standards process. (4) Performance objectives and threshold values under various deployment circumstances are captured for key requirements (initially focusing on Wave1 of the standards process). 

That said, video of successful robots in challenging responder training scenarios is captured at these events so that responders everywhere can start to envision how these assets might work for them. 

Who gets to attend these events?
In general, these events are working exercises in somewhat dangerous environments. Casual observers are not allowed to attend. The exercises are also not currently open to all responders. FEMA US&R Task Force members who comprise the advisory panel on robot performance requirements and standards are the key participants and robot operators. Robot manufacturers, developers, funding agencies, and researchers who have relevant technology that can be shown to be applicable to at least a subset of the scenarios are welcome to come. Active members of the standards committee are welcome to come as well. 

I want to demo my new whizbang gadget but I don't want it to get damaged. Can I bring it and just show it?
Standalone demonstrations are strongly discouraged. It is our goal to have the technologies be run by responders in realistic situations. Note that there are certain scenarios and subsets of scenarios that may not be as harsh as others. There are also the proposed standard test methods that need to be exercised, so there is a wide range of deployment opportunities for many levels of robot development. But in general, your technology has to be demonstrably relevant and functional to get involved in these events. 

I have a new whizbang technology that responders should know about, but it's doesn't really have anything to do with robots? Can I bring it?
This event is about robots for urban search and rescue. If your technology has no possibility of ever being deployed on or by a robot, this is not the event for you. 

Will this event produce purchase decisions for my robot? We understand that many robot developers hope for or need an imminent purchase decision to hang on every outing. Unfortunately, we can't say with confidence that this event will necessary lead directly to a purchase. This event is intended to close the loop on your technologies and their intended applications, to identify necessary changes in your approach to be maximally useful to responders, and to provide exposure of your technology to the people who guide purchasing decisions for this community. See questions above for addition discussion regarding the envisioned path to procurement.

What Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is needed to participate in this event?
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a must for working within any scenario at the site. People in street clothes or without helmets/gloves/etc as shown below are limited to paved roads only. If you are working in/near a scenario, you must wear ALL the equipment shown below. Compliance with these personal protective equipment rules are mandatory - it is standard practice for US&R environments. 

On Site Safety Comes First
Be cautious, use common sense, and watch out for others! 

Safety of all personnel participating in this event is our first concern. The fact that we have robotics personnel on site, generally unaccustomed to working within hazardous scenarios, is particularly problematic. First, all appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn at all times while on site (see associated page on PPE) -- which means wear all of it when you are working in/near a scenario. People in street clothes or without helmets, gloves, etc., are limited to paved roads only. Compliance with these personal protective equipment rules are mandatory. 

  • The rubble piles present the most risk to novices. If you are operating a robot on a rubble pile or other difficult scenario and it needs to be extracted, please ask your associated emergency responder to retrieve it (hopefully, he/she was the one driving when it got stuck anyway!).
  • Always maintain awareness of others working within your scenario and communicate your intentions *before* doing whatever you have in mind.
  • Understand that robots can do unpredictable things; the bigger/heavier the robot the more space you should allow it. And don’t stick your fingers into places it might not like. Always familiarize yourself with the emergency stop procedures first… and last…. before interacting with or operating robots. Some implementations are more predictable than others, and it has nothing to do with shininess!
  • If you see anything you consider unsafe in our environment, please inform the incident commander or any emergency responder on site, and let’s discuss it at the daily after action briefing (or the next morning safety briefing).