Disasters: Robots, Computing, and Informatics with Robin Murphy

Unmanned ground, aerial, and marine vehicles have been used at over 46 disasters since 2001 and offer the potential to transform emergency response, recovery, and prevention. However, disaster robotics is not really about robots but more about the data that they provide. This TechTalk will introduce participants to the phases of disaster response and summarize the missions where unmanned systems have been used. The remainder of the TechTalk will be divided into two parts. One part will discuss computing challenges for increased intelligent control of the platforms, describing the missions for which autonomous capabilities appear the most useful. Intelligent control also involves advances in human-robot interaction as human error was responsible for 50% of the mission-terminating failures reported between 2001 and 2013.

The second part of the TechTalk will discuss the emergency informatics challenges of extracting, delivering, displaying, and supporting analytics of relevant information. For example, the 2015 Memorial Day weekend floods in Texas illustrate the extreme scales associated with even “small” disasters.  The flooding in the Blanco River region, one of four major regions impacted, spanned four counties and 412 miles2. Over 20 local and state agencies were involved, plus an equal number of search teams with small UAVs. A single 20-minute UAV flight produced roughly over 800 images totaling 1.7GB. There were over a dozen platforms flying daily for two weeks as well as Civil Air Patrol and satellite imagery. The primary data source for situation awareness and for searching was imagery, highlighting the need for computer vision. By the end of the TechTalk, participants should have a high level understanding of what really goes on at a disaster, how robots and computing are being used, and the open research questions for unmanned systems and computer science in general.

Robin Murphy

Robin R. Murphy is Raytheon Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University and directs the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR). She received a B.M.E. in mechanical engineering, a M.S. and Ph.D in computer science in 1980, 1989, and 1992, respectively, from Georgia Institute of Technology. She has over 150 publications on artificial intelligence, human-robot interaction, and robotics including the Introduction to AI Robotics and Disaster Robotics, which won the 2014 PROSE honorable mention for engineering and science writing at the American Publishers Awards. An IEEE Fellow and a founder of Roboticists Without Borders, she has worked in disaster robotics research and deployment since 1995. Murphy has inserted ground, air, and marine robots at 19 disasters world-wide including the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster, Hurricane Katrina, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. Her numerous professional awards include the Motohiro Kisoi award (Japan), the AUVSI Foundation Al Aube award, and the 2014 ACM Eugene L. Lawler Award for Humanitarian Contributions Within Computer Science and Informatics. She has been declared an “Innovator in AI” by TIME, an “Alpha Geek” by WIRED Magazine, one of the “Most Influential Women in Technology” by Fast Company, and one of the Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers for 2015 by Government Technology Magazine.