FEMA notices students' search-and-rescue bot

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, August 8, 2013

High school students competing in SkillsUSA and inspired by Pitsco Education's Robotics: Urban Search and Rescue Challenge have crafted a fully functional remote-controlled search-and-rescue robot that has been put into service and has caught the attention of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials.

"We just can't believe people are taking what we've built and designed and are going to use it to help save people's lives if needed," said Duncanville (Texas) High School Robotics Teacher Bart Burnett. "It really doesn't get any bigger than that."

The robot, affectionately named Robbie and built from Pitsco's TETRIX® Building System, has been put into service by the Best Southwest Regional Community Emergency Response Team in DeSoto, Texas.

The team's director, Don Dewberry, conducted two field tests of Robbie early in 2013 that removed any doubts about the robot's abilities. The student builders controlled the bot remotely -- more than 100 feet away -- surveying the obstacles via a television monitor displaying a video feed from the onboard infrared camera. The robot flawlessly overcame 2 x 4s, wooden pallets, a 30-degree climb, and a 90-degree turn in a black tube, among other obstacles, and it quickly located victims in a darkened room.

"Following discussion with some of my peers, we were extremely pleased with the search-and-rescue robot the students came up with," Dewberry said. "It met or exceeded the majority of the items on our list of need-to-haves."

Dewberry said the robot's primary value in emergency situations would be the delivery of aid to victims and the protection of emergency personnel. "This gives our CERT volunteers and first responders the ability to see what the conditions may be in heavily damaged areas without putting rescuers in harm's way."

The students also assembled a technical manual covering the theory of operation, troubleshooting, diagrams, and parts listings that accompanied the robot when it was turned over to CERT for service.

Representatives from FEMA grew interested and even visited to learn more about the student-built bot, which was featured in a FEMA publication this summer. "I hope we get inundated with requests, because how much greater a lesson can you have in a robotics class than to be designing and modifying robots for real-world use with real-world customers?" asked Burnett.

Pitsco Education is the leading provider of age-appropriate, student-centered K-12 STEM learning solutions. Our standards-based curriculum, equipment, and materials promote student success through positive and challenging learning experiences, and our hands-on solutions teach core concepts and career skills in science, technology, engineering, and math.