EU eight years funding for BU disaster robotics research (from FP7 to Horizon 2020)

Urbanisation and changes in modern infrastructure have introduced new challenges to firefighting practices. The entire direct and indirect cost of fire is about 1% GDP losses in the world annually. For example, in 2013, the USA had over 1.2 million fires which resulted in about 3.4 thousand civilian fatalities, 16 thousand injuries and property losses of about $12.4 billion. In addition, about 100 fire fighters lost their lives and over 65 thousand were injured on the fire ground. UK had over 190 thousand fires responses, about 350 civilian fatalities, over 10 thousand injuries.

BU will be leading, under direction of Prof Hongnian Yu and Dr Shuang Cang, an international consortium on a project receiving €0.9 million in funding to address these challenges. SMart rObOTs for fire-figHting (SMOOTH) is a four-year project awarded under the EU Horizon 2020 MSCA program. It is the further expansion and development of the previous four-year RABOT (real-time adaptive networked control of rescue robots) project funded under FP7-IRSES, led by Dr Cang and Prof Yu.

The RABOT consortium consisted of two EU and three Asia Partners, and made numerous tangible results and activities. Examples are: 1) facilitated 77 mobility visits conducted by 46 researchers and trained 22 ESRs directly and over 250 ESRs through the project workshops, seminars, invited sessions etc. where BU hosted 18 international research visitors under the support of the RABOT project; 2) published over 60 journal and conference papers including the best conference paper awards, fired four patents, and won five international awards; 3) organised three invited sessions (another one to be organised along SKIMA 2016(; 4) organised nine training workshops; 5) produced the workspace and dexterity of the haptic mechanism, deduced the kinematics and kinetics of the haptic device and implemented it with performance evaluation; 6) studied multi-agents’ coordinate control, leader-follower control and consensus control, and based on differential manifold method, simulated the proposed formation control method; 7) investigated and established an interaction model between human and a robot; 8) developed the Damping interface using Dynamic Hybrid Force Position Sensing (DHFPS) methods; 6) developed  the intelligent interface for modelling the platform balance amplitude using DHFPS methods; 7) developed the interface tilt over robot control using DHFPS methods; 8) designed and developed a haptic interface for the rescue walking robots motion in the disaster areas; 9) designed and developed a networked control approach for operating robots remotely; 10) designed and prototyped a wearable robot for supporting a human who works in the disaster areas; 11) designed and prototyped the autonomous legged & wheeled robot; 12) designed and developed a novel hexapod robot.

In addition, the RABOT consortium has received the following funding for further expanding and sustaining the collaboration and research: 1) VIPRO (2014-2017), financed by the Romanian Scientific Research Agency (ANCS), Partnerships Program in priority fields; 2) Mechanism Design of Rescue Robots for Nuclear power plant emergency relief, China 973 Programme; 3) Urban Fire and Rescue Robots, China Shanghai Science and Technology Innovation programme;  4) Adaptive Learning Control of a Cardiovascular Robot using Expert Surgeon Techniques, China NSF and UK Newton Funds; 5) China – Romania intelligent rehabilitation robot joint laboratory, China Science and Technology Programme; and 6) SMOOTH (Horizon 2020).

Those results and activities have made the positive contributions in achieving the BU top 200 most international universities.

The new SMOOTH project aims to innovate a smart robot-assisted firefighting platform to perform searching and rescuing practice in the fire ground, and to facilitate the efficient decision makings. Concerning harsh environments for the complex fire ground (including chemical plants and other venues), the consortium will investigate, study, and innovate information acquisition (sensing and visioning technology), transmission (ultra-remote signal transmission) and processing (multi-sensor fusion technology), instrumentation (actuating technology, robotics thermal protection technology), control (multi-degree of freedom mobile and operating robot control methods, obstacle avoidance and sweeping, Decision Support Systems (DSS)) and communication (Human-Robot (H2R) interaction systems, Machine-to-Machine (M2M)).

The SMOOTH research programme will provide three EU industrial partners (SMEs), one EU university, one EU research institution, two TC universities and one TC research institution the opportunity to move between sectors and countries in order to provide, absorb, implement, share and disseminate new knowledge in a professional industrial-academic environment at the European and global levels. It will be implemented via functional secondments and the organisation of/participation in training courses, workshops, summer schools, seminars, industrial forums, and conferences for sharing knowledge, acquiring new skills and developing careers for Consortium staff members and early stage researchers.  SMOOTH will foster a shared culture, and reward creativity and entrepreneurship.  A distinctive feature of this international consortium is its multidisciplinary nature (combining computer sciences, engineering, technology and business expertise) and its designed interaction between academic researchers and industrial practitioners in order to create an internationally excellent hub centred on advancing firefighting robotics utilisation as part of search and rescue tasks for the benefit of humanity.