Tests conducted recently in Italy suggest searching emergency scenes would be easier if cameras on rescue robots moved in tandem with the body of the bot. For example, when the robot is looking to the right, pressing the lever to make the robot move forward will cause it to move to the right. This approach, known as free look control, is commonly used in first-person shooter video games, such as Call of Duty.
“The idea is to reduce the mental strain on the operator, so they can focus on the environment they are dealing with,” says Petter Ögren, associate professor at the Center for Autonomous Systems at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
Currently, most rescue robots use a technique called tank control, in which the movement controls and the camera position are independent of each other. Free look control is more complicated for engineers to implement but proved easier for operators to use and get a sense of their environment. With free look control, the robot can also move perpendicular to the camera’s view. This technique, known as strafing, is a natural way to scan search and rescue scenes.
Twelve out of the 16 firefighters tested said they preferred free look control. They also tended to search more successfully. In one of the tests, operators located as many markers as possible in under two minutes. With tank control, an average of 4.5 markers was found per user. With free look control, that number climbed to six.
The tests were conducted as part of a larger European Union project called the Long-Term Human-Robot Teaming for Robot-Assisted Disaster Response.