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Urban Search and Rescue Robots Nationwide Deploy for Evaluation Exercise at Disaster City

Ground, aerial and aquatic emergency response robots from across the country will face realistic urban search and rescue challenges April 4-6 at Disaster City near the Texas A&M University campus in College Station, Texas.

The event, hosted by Texas A&M Engineering and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urban search and rescue team Texas Task Force 1, is the second in a series of robot evaluation exercises for urban search and rescue applications conducted by the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The program is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate.

"We welcome the opportunity to test robot capabilities at Texas A&M's Disaster City and expect to learn a great deal," said Adam Jacoff, NIST Intelligent Systems Division robotic research engineer. "Emergency responders will have an opportunity to deploy robots in realistic training scenarios. Their feedback will help the robot developers refine their designs and better understand robot performance requirements. At the same time, NIST will gain valuable experience on how to objectively evaluate robot performance. Data NIST collects will be used to develop standard test methods and usage guides and to help identify robots best suited for specific emergency response situations," he said.

"Texas A&M Engineering is uniquely capable of supporting this emerging technology of incorporating robotics into urban search and rescue," added Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, vice chancellor and dean of Texas A&M Engineering. "Our facilities and laboratories are ideal for testing and evaluating existing technology, while our academic engineering program supports identifying the research and development needs of the future. Our full spectrum of capabilities can transfer technology from theory to practical application for our ultimate objective: enhancing public safety."

Disaster City is a 52-acre training facility designed to deliver the full array of skills and techniques needed by urban search and rescue professionals, featuring full-scale collapsible structures that replicate community infrastructure. The site includes simulations of a strip mall, office building, industrial complex, assembly hall/theater, single-family dwelling, train derailments, and three active rubble piles. It also features a small lake.

NIST has invited the following types of robots to Disaster City: (1) quickly launched, low-attitude aerial surveillance robots; (2) ground-based portable robots that can circumnavigate large unknown situations, such as in train derailments; (3) highly agile, human-packable robots that can be released to lead responders through complex environments such as building rubble piles; (4) confined space robots for deployment into small otherwise inaccessible spaces or for throwing into or over inaccessible areas; (5) wall climbing robots for surveillance from elevated vantage points; and (6) aquatic robots including surface, underwater, and bottom crawlers to perform pattern searches with sonar and/or other sensors.

All FEMA urban search and rescue teams are invited to the event. Emergency responders will match robots, after two days of robot tests and performance test measurement work, for specific scenarios in a final day four-hour mock incident response exercise. The exercise will deploy the robots in a working incident response command structure.

NIST, a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic and homeland security. As part of this mission, NIST scientists and engineers continually refine the science of measurement, making possible the ultra precise engineering and manufacturing required for today's most advanced technologies.

Texas A&M University's engineering program ( ranks among the finest and most comprehensive engineering programs in the nation. The Dwight Look College of Engineering is an integral part of Texas A&M, which opened in 1876 as the state's first public institution of higher education. More than 8,800 students are enrolled in 12 engineering disciplines. Texas A&M Engineering also includes three state engineering agencies that provide engineering research, education and outreach to the state, nation and world.

Editors' Note: Media interested in observing this exercise should contact Jason Cook at (979) 575-0859.

Released March 31, 2006, Updated January 20, 2023