Article Archive
Expendable Responder
Miniature reconnaissance robot reduces risk to search-and-rescue personnel in dangerous operations.
Volume 25, No. 1

The instructions that accompany the latest product from Recon-Robotics, Inc. are simple. First, pull pin. Next, throw it through a doorway, into a tunnel or over a wall. By the count of ten, expect results.

Bearing in mind that variations of the product are already in use by hundreds of law enforcement SWAT and U.S. military customers, some might expect the aforementioned results to be a shattering explosion. Instead, Recon Scout Rescue is a miniature reconnaissance device that allows search-and-rescue personnel to immediately inspect confined spaces and otherwise dangerous environments, said David Gustafson, ReconRobotics' director of commercial sales.

"We want firefighters to know that there is a very easy-to-use, lightweight robotic system out there that can be put into dangerous situations so that the firefighter doesn't have to go," he said.

The device is unique in that it is extremely small, throwable and mobile. Equipped with large motors combined with a powerful drive train, the one-pound Recon Scout Rescue can be directed by a firefighter to move through an environment, such as a building collapse, and transmit real-time video back to a handheld control unit.

"One of the main advantages of the robot is that it is roughly the size of a can of Coke," Gustafson said. "It can go places where a person just cannot."

The video information obtained by the robot can be used to locate victims, explosive devices or other hazardous materials, he said. The robot is not recommended for live fire situations.

"In the law enforcement world, its intended use was to learn mission critical intelligence about a hostage scenario or about a barricaded subject without having to put a person in harm's way," Gustafson said. "In the search and rescue world, we are talking about a hazardous chemical environment or a confined space."

The Rescue is eight inches long and weighs only 1.3 pounds. A firefighter can hang it off his belt or carry it in a pocket. Rather than have to retrieve specialized equipment from the fire truck, a firefighter is ready to deploy the device immediately as needed, Gustafson said.

"The controller that operates the robot only weighs two pounds," he said. "So the total weight of the system is just over three pounds. Whereas other recon robots require a small laptop computer for control, our controller can be held in one hand and operated with your thumb."

As for the robot, a firefighter can either throw the device or drop it down a vertical shaft using a 100-foot tether. Using a single joystick on the operator control unit, the firefighter can then direct the device to move through the environment.

"Everything about this robot is engineered to be simple to use and operate," Gustafson said. "Training to use this system is measured in minutes. It's a simple matter of up is forward, down is back and side to side turns it around."

Rescue is engineered to withstand repeated drops of up to 30 feet onto concrete, he said.

"Would you drop your camera three stories onto the ground and expect it to survive?" Gustafson said. "The Rescue is extremely rugged. It can get knocked around and continue to function."

The robot is equipped with an ultra-low-light optical system that sees into the infrared spectrum in zero darkness, he said.

"An ambient light detector measures the level of darkness," Gustafson said. "When the camera needs help, five infrared illuminators turn on automatically without needing to be told. This allows the robot to see in complete darkness."

With a maximum drain on its lithium-polymer battery, the Rescue can operate just over an hour. Maximum drain means continuous use of the motors while using the IR light sources.

"If you stop the robot to observe a situation, the lifetime of the batteries is extended," Gustafson said.

The Rescue can transmit video up to 100 feet indoors and 300 feet outdoors. When packaged with a ReconRobotics Command Monitoring Station, the Rescue can also transmit video to an incident command post located up to 1,000 feet away.

Fire and rescue agencies can specify the Rescue in any of three transmitting frequencies, allowing their front line personnel to operate up to three devices in the same environment at the same time.

Although it can negotiate rugged terrain, Recon Scout Rescue does have limitations.

"The military wanted something that would go into caves and over bomb rubble," Gustafson said. "It doesn't go up stairs by itself and it certainly doesn't leap tall buildings at a single bound."

Complete with robot and controller, the Recon Scout Rescue kit sells for $13,000.

"I can't imagine that you would put a person's life at risk with this as an alternative," Gustafson said.


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