'Rescue' robots could save lives in fires

Aug. 11, 2011 at 8:40 PM
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ATLANTA, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Smart, mobile robots could safely guide people from a burning building or alert emergency personnel to injured or trapped people, U.S. researchers say.

Georgia Institute of Technology electrical engineers Ayanna Howard and Paul Robinette say they envision "smart" roving exit signs that could lead people through blinding smoke to exits and even return inside to seek out stragglers, NewScientist.com reported Thursday.

Static signs indicate exit locations but can't warn people when an exit is blocked or unsafe, the researchers said.

Howard and Robinette say the robots would be stored in large buildings and receive instructions from a human operator during an emergency.

A robot would initiate a "rescuer mode," seeking out people in need of help, and then change to "leader mode" to guide those people to safety.

If a robot came across an injured person, it would communicate the location to emergency personnel and stay there, the researchers said.

Howard and Robinette said they are currently using a simulated environment to test people's reactions to evacuation robots.

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