Table of contents
„The past year has shown us how important robotic assistance is in disasters„
Chairman of the Board
Acting in the best possible way under adverse conditions in the field - this characterises the work of fire brigades and relief organisations. This requires a lot: readiness, training, technology. The past year has shown us all that this is true for all of us to a certain extent. We took this very point to heart and worked continuously and unwaveringly to build the German Rescue Robotics Centre. Today I can say that we have achieved a lot: Our network has grown, many things have become tangible and have culminated in our Living Lab.
Our Living Lab will help make technology usable in adverse conditions. Many digital applications show that the leap into application in the "analogue" world can be treacherous. New technologies need test and trial opportunities like our Living Lab more than ever - it's the only way we can learn from each other.
I am delighted to see how our centre of excellence is growing and how many ideas, originally drawn on paper, are taking shape - how we in the team are growing together with enthusiasm and the will to create something unique, and how the topic of rescue robotics is becoming more and more important.
With this newsletter we would like to give you a little insight into our heart - the DRZ Living Lab - introduce you to our helping robots and inform you about technical developments.
Get excited about the topic of protecting and saving lives with the help of robotic systems.
News from the association
The heart of the association is the so-called Living Lab. The virtual opening in January laid the foundation for real tests for rescue robotics.
Set-up of the Living Lab
Since September 2020, the DRZ has been busy setting up the Living Lab. A workshop, work areas for researchers, powerful network infrastructure and a so-called motion capture system have been set up on 1,300m² of hall space. An outdoor area with currently approx. 3,500m² of usable space is directly adjacent.
In the Living Lab, different scenarios for ground and air robots can be simulated using modular test fields. Field tests can be designed, carried out or accompanied by qualified personnel. Some test areas were already set up in the second half of 2020 and have been used several times. You can find a lot of information about the Living Lab in the logbook on our page www.rettungsrobotik.de/Living-Lab-logbuch.
3 Questions for Robert Grafe - Managing Director DRZ - about the Living Lab
How will the test areas be used in the future?
We are building an interdisciplinary centre of excellence here at the Dortmund site, one of the aims of which is to provide a comprehensive test and trial infrastructure for researchers, developers and later users. This can be, for example, a replica industrial plant in which the robot has to orientate itself, detect a leakage and close a valve, for example.
How and by whom can the test fields be used?
Through the open structure of our competence centre as a registered association, we aim to work in partnership with our association members. The Living Lab is available to research institutions, companies and authorities and can be used by arrangement. The experiments are always accompanied by our staff.
How can robotic systems be used in the future?
Basically, in my view, unmanned aerial systems are to be distinguished, which can be used well especially for reconnaissance and search missions. When it comes to manual activities, we tend to see ground robots, e.g. tracked vehicles. Here, transport tasks at large operation sites, operations with hazardous substances and also firefighting in larger (industrial) complexes or forest fires are possible. In principle, however, development is less advanced here. Basically, we do not see mobile robots as a replacement, but as a relief for emergency forces in scenarios that are particularly dangerous or time-consuming.
News from the association
Since last autumn, the DRZ has already been able to establish two further areas.
Master of the Living Lab and Research Assistant
Unser technischer Mitarbeiter, Dennis Balkon, hat sich seit seinem Start im September hauptsächlich mit der Ausstattung unseres Living Labs beschäftigt. Unglaublich, was in kurzer Zeit in einer leeren, 1.300 m2 großen Halle entstanden ist. Beispielsweise ein Testfeld mit dem Namen „Detektion Hausfassade“. Dieses Testfeld besteht aus einem verschiebbaren Grundgerüst mit einer Hausfassade, die möglichst viele unterschiedliche Fassaden und Fenstertypen bietet. Die begehbare Rückseite gibt Möglichkeiten, Menschen, Dummys und Wärmequellen erkennen zu können.
Nils Heidemann is building the technical infrastructure of the Living Lab as a research assistant. At the start in October 2020, he was able to directly accompany the installation and commissioning of our unique motion capture system. In the process, 40 cameras were installed in the hall. The system will be used to track robots (UAVs and UGVs) and determine their exact position in the hall. Users can then obtain this information directly from the software. Furthermore, Nils will maintain our demonstrators and equip them with additional functions.
Structure of training and education
At the start of the year, we have once again expanded our team. Michael Dalbert is a business economist and previously worked for more than 20 years in a management position for the two largest German private-sector providers of training and further education for BOS emergency services. The goal is to establish a DRZ training centre. In the future, training and further education as well as training programmes in the broad spectrum of rescue robotics will be offered there. We will start with topics related to the operation of unmanned aerial systems.
News from the project
In this section, we report today on training with a focus on robotics and on the topic of certification and standardisation.
Job profiles of the future - How do I become an expert in rescue robotics?
Job profiles of the future - How do I become an expert in rescue robotics?
More and more often, you read about operations with fire-fighting robots and drones. So there is a strong tendency towards digitalisation here as well. The drivers of digitalisation are technical professions, especially, of course, computer science. Robotics and, in the same breath, artificial intelligence are two subfields within computer science. Both are so-called cross-sectional technologies, i.e. in order to master them, you need solid basic knowledge from computer science. A first solid step towards becoming an expert in rescue robotics is, for example, an apprenticeship or degree in computer science. In addition to the essential basics of computer science, almost all colleges and universities also have robotics focal points within computer science. In the second part of a degree programme, expertise in the field of robotics can be acquired by taking elective modules in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence. Those who are more practically oriented choose the universities of applied sciences, and those who are interested in academic honours choose the universities of applied sciences.
Particularly interesting and popular here are the so-called "dual courses of study" in which training and study can be combined. While dual studies are already very popular in the field of business and many universities offer dual courses of study together with companies, public administration is lagging behind here with administrative law. Currently, administrative law does not provide for dual training as a firefighter and, for example, a computer scientist - although the universities have already thought this way ahead. There is an urgent need for readjustment and modernisation here. Nevertheless, knowledge in the field of rescue robotics can also be acquired during studies.
The partners of the German Rescue Robotics Centre, in particular the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences in Gelsenkirchen and the Dortmund University of Applied Sciences, offer extensive events for students together with the German Rescue Robotics Centre. Universities, for example the TU Dortmund, the University of Bonn, the TU Darmstadt and the University of Lübeck, also have basic specialisations in the field of rescue robotics. The University of Lübeck has even set up its own degree course in this field. There is also a lot of interest in the field of rescue robotics at other colleges and universities in Germany, as well as some projects in this area. It is worth taking a look at the websites of the respective colleges/universities.
Robots to be used in rescue are particularly interesting for research in terms of their mobility and capabilities, as the missions and environments present some challenges and dangers.
Certification and standardisation - an important topic
An essential part of the Minimax Viking cooperation with the consortium and the DRZ is the development of certification basics for robot applications. Stefanie Quast explains why this is so important.
All products in our everyday lives go through tests at the manufacturer's to ensure that they are safe for their intended or foreseeable use. Further tests can be carried out by external laboratories. On the one hand, this serves to make use of testing equipment that is not available in the manufacturer's company (e.g. a special test laboratory for electromagnetic compatibility). On the other hand, a quality level that goes beyond this allows the manufacturer to commission a certification company to test his product according to recognised standards and guidelines.
Such a certified testing body is, for example, the VdS Technical Testing Laboratory, which has been testing the reliability of fire extinguishing technology in Europe for 112 years. But which body will test a hazard prevention robot in the future on the basis of which standards and guidelines, for which rules of technology are only now emerging in the course of research? Similar questions are also occupying industry and the public, for example, with regard to self-learning algorithms or ubiquitous computing, in which tiny, wirelessly networked computers are finding their way into more and more everyday objects.
The goal of the user work package for standardisation and certification is therefore, beyond modular technical construction plans and software code, to also develop a procedure for certifying the robots. As with the technical aspects, the aim here is a modular structure so that, depending on the hazardous situation (e.g. forest fire, hazardous materials accident, industrial fire), these robots function reliably. Extensive research is therefore crucial, as this task is much more complex than safely testing a robot for a specific application (e.g. lawn mower). Critical to success for rescue robots are:
+ Scalable scenarios that are close to real and extreme conditions.
+ Not only qualitative criteria (task fulfilled?), but especially quantitative criteria (in which time, in which temperature range or under which visibility conditions fulfilled?) are indispensable in real use
+ In addition to teleoperation, autonomous and semi-autonomous robots must be included.
Together with the work package on setting up test fields in the DRZ, the Certification work package forms a joint unit.
Abb. 1 – The D4 rescue robot was developed by Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts in close cooperation with Minimax Viking Research & Development. The driving platform can be equipped with different payloads so that, for example, the extinguishing and detection module specially developed by the robotics team can be placed on top.
Abb. 2 – The D3 robot was developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics in Wachtberg. It can safely transport people away and is extremely all-terrain.
Virtual opening & user workshop
With almost 200 registrations, our DRZ event was very well attended and the subsequent, consistently positive feedback showed that we had put together an interesting programme.
The Rescue robotic days form a new format for various events around the German Rescue Robotics Centre and the topic of rescue robotics. In workshops, competitions and lectures, robots are tested, experiences and ideas are exchanged and thus research results are brought closer to practice. The Rescue Robotics Days were already planned for 2020, but unfortunately had to be postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are to be continued in the coming years and thus form a fixed format in the centre of excellence.
The start of the Rescue Robotics Days was marked by a virtual opening of the DRZ Living Lab and a subsequent user workshop on 28.01.2021. Almost 200 registrations proved the great interest in this event. The event was moderated by Dr. Hauke Speth, Senior Government Fire Director and Head of Department of the IdF NRW. In addition to greetings from the DRZ board, the head of the department of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Ms. Sabine ten Hagen-Knauer, addressed the participants. With the establishment of the Living Lab, an important milestone has been reached, she said. Germany should become a leading provider of rescue robotics.
In the subsequent user workshop, representatives of project partners from industry and science provided information about ground- and air-based robot systems. In addition, users reported on their experiences. The almost four-hour event once again demonstrated the great interest in the topic of rescue robotics.
Since our last newsletter in July 2020, we were able to gain 6 new members for the association. In general, we offer our members the exchange and networking with our partners, the use of our unique infrastructure and much more.
In total, the non-profit association German Rescue Robotics Centre currently has 21 institutional members. With their competence and expertise, they support the non-profit association's purposes as a national centre of excellence for rescue robotics. In addition, members also create synergies for their own company, for example by exchanging information about the latest developments and trends in research, development and technologies available on the market, as well as insights into the ongoing results of our research project.
Membership is open to all organisations that share the association's goal - to promote the dissemination of rescue robotics. The focus is on emergency services, companies, universities, research institutions, authorities and associations. In addition, natural persons can also apply for network membership. Further information on the association and membership fees can be found in the application for membership at: www.rettungsrobotik.de/der-verein/Mitglied-werden/
New members are:
+ Dräger Safety AG & Co. KGaA
+ Berliner Feuerwehr
+ B&T Solution
+ Feuerwehr Bad Homburg FB 37
+ Ernst Rehfuss Werkzeugbau GmbH
Rescue robotics - technical development
The modularisation concept of the Fraunhofer FKIE shows the uniqueness of the research in the joint project
What does modularisation concept mean?
In the current standard situation in the field of robotics research, ground robots are usually operated and equipped with similar technologies, but the equipment is often permanently scaffolded on a robot system and inflexibly adapted to the respective robot type, a special purpose or to special framework conditions of the project. Cross-project compatibility of robot systems from different organisations is extremely rare, but even when several robots are used within the same project, they are often not designed as interchangeable systems.
The core idea of the modularisation concept for DRZ ground robots is the function-driven and technical-spatial encapsulation of the individual systems into three main components: Mobility platform, module carrier and specific operational payloads designed as exchangeable modules (Fig. X). The mobility platform accommodates the drive systems for locomotion and at the same time represents the energy source for the entire system. The module support, which is specifically adapted to a mobility platform, serves as a compatibility layer and connects all sensors and actuators to be integrated on the platform side at the mechatronic level. In addition, on the software side, this module carrier connects relevant components to the robotics middleware ROS (Robot Operating System) commonly used in the research environment, which is also used as standard in the DRZ as part of the modularisation concept. On the module side, the module rack provides standardised mechanical and electrical interfaces for the exchangeable modules, which are defined by the modularisation concept. The module carrier is also responsible for the technical module management in terms of detection and identification of modules in the associated module carrier slots. The modules themselves are subject to a standardised basic form factor and have suitable data processing, evaluation and computing capacity. Through synchronised operation via logical module management, the modules in turn make their functionality available to the overall system via defined ROS messages. In order to be able to take into account the different size requirements of various means of operation, the module carriers optionally support limited integer multiples of the basic form factor as module size.
Abb. X: Illustration of the modularisation concept based on a technical planning sketch of the D3 (left) and four sketches of possible assembly configurations of the D3 module carrier planned as a convertible-H (right).
After discussion and coordination of the initial concept with all partners, the modularisation concept was worked out in detail in the second development phase in the area of mechatronic structure and interface specification as well as in the area of software interfaces and logical communication architecture. In the third phase, the created modularisation concept was successfully transferred step by step into the exemplary realisation of hardware and software using the DRZ's own demonstrators D3 (Fig. A2) and D4 (Fig. A3). The interchangeability of unified DRZ modules from different partners and their operability on the two module-bearing platforms of the DRZ were verified in exemplary integration tests. The project work now follows the fourth phase of the iteration and revision process in order to be able to make improvements and react to the growing DRZ infrastructure.
Abb. A2 Commercial mobility platform before conversion and adaptation by FKIE as D3 (top left), assembled module carrier of the D3 in Convertible-H design (bottom left) and complete system equipped with DRZ modules from various DRZ partners during an integration sprint at the central location of the DRZ in Dortmund.
Fig.A3: The demonstrator D4 developed by the DRZ partner Dortmund University of Applied Sciences during joint integration tests with FKIE (left), functionally disassembled into mobility platform, module carrier and modules (centre) and equipped with large extinguishing agent module and applicator module (right), among others.
With the development and design of a cross-platform modularisation concept, the foundation was laid in the field of rescue robotics for the DRZ to simplify joint work on a combined multi-robot system across partner and platform boundaries. The separation into mobility platform and mission payload as well as the standardisation in modular design enable a simple participation of all technical partners in the module-bearing robot systems of the DRZ in the long term. The reuse of subcomponents and the possibility to assemble corresponding robot systems in a flexible manner favour their practical use. In view of the increasing number of new DRZ members, newly formulated technical requirements, specified application scenarios and the planning of further DRZ modules, future activities in the field of modularisation remain an exciting and highly dynamic challenge. The ongoing practice-oriented further development of application-oriented robotic systems and the modularisation concept in the field of rescue robotics are important endeavours for the future.
Unveiling the RobLW
The great interest shown by the trade press, regional press and television in the unveiling of our unique robotics command vehicle shows that the topic of rescue robotics has its finger on the pulse.
Unveiling of the robotics response vehicle
A big event for the German Rescue Robotics Centre took place in September last year. The unveiling of our robotics command vehicle was a complete success. Representatives of the press and invited guests followed the unveiling of the command vehicle with excitement. In keeping with the occasion, our robot "D2" symbolically handed over an oversized key to DRZ board member Thomas Straßmann. The RobLW was developed as a research vehicle. Such special vehicles for robotic operations are not yet common, neither in research nor among fire brigades. The command vehicle offers transport capacity for both technical personnel and robots including accessories and lots of technology. In addition, the robots can be operated from inside - whether on the ground or in the air. At the same time, the data obtained is monitored and evaluated and distributed as required. The robotics guidance vehicle is part of the overall project, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
Milestone and network meeting
Half-time in the project - time to review and present the milestones set with the project sponsor VDI-TZ.
Twice a year, all partners in the consortium and associated partners meet with the project management organisation.
On 2 and 3 December 2020, a special meeting was on the agenda, because in addition to the fourth joint meeting, the milestone in the project to establish the German Rescue Robotics Centre, which is funded by the BMBF, took place. Together with all project and associated partners, the numerous results were presented. Of course, in times of the pandemic, with an online event.
The first day of these important project meetings included the so-called milestone, in which the project promoter used a checklist to review the results achieved by the individual partners on the defined milestones. At the same time, the milestone also represents the halfway point of the four-year funded project. To the satisfaction of all involved, the VDI-TZ announced that all milestones had been met.
On the second day, the detailed results were presented in the project and explained and discussed at the request of the project executing agency. The early assumption that the collaborative meeting would again be purely virtual had allowed sufficient planning of alternatives to a face-to-face event. An alternative, without a meeting of people and technology, was to present the practical progress of the project. A scenario film shot in the consortium was the showcase for the application of the technologies in the field. There were also many exciting videos of the individual partners showing their progress in software as well as hardware technology. With the help of a live broadcast, there was a tour of the DRZ Living Lab, as well as a demonstration of the robustness of mission-relevant communication systems under the influence of interference signals.
The scenario film impressively showed the cooperation of all technical systems in a replicated fire brigade operation triggered by a chemical accident in an industrial hall. These are just some of the achievements of the joint meeting:
The modularisation concept was shown in practice for the first time. The different sensors can be used by different robots with the help of a modular design. The recognition and graphic display of vital parameters of a human being with the help of the vital sign module was demonstrated in practice for the first time. The autonomous overcoming of obstacles by drones and ground robots by means of the creation of a 3D environment model was also demonstrated in a reconstructed operational environment. Progress was also demonstrated on the software side. This included a first stable version of the digital situation picture system, as well as an impressive demonstration of the voice assistance system for automatic voice recognition and semantic task generation for robotic systems from the radio traffic of the fire brigade and rescue service.
The DRZ robots
Open the door for our robots!
Anhand eines Steckbriefes stellen wir unsere kleinen und großen Demonstratoren mit ihren technischen Details und Fähigkeiten vor.
Here we give an outlook on upcoming events and important dates of the DRZ
- foreseeable. End of April - Legislation Workshop - Legally secure BOS deployment after the introduction of the EU Drone Regulation 2020/21 (in planning)
- 24.05.-27.05.2021 - RoboCup Rescue German Open 2021 - DRZ Edition
- 28.05.2021 - Official opening Living Lab & Scientific Symposium in the context of the Rescue Robotics Days
- Autumn 2021 - User Workshop
- 29.04.2021 - Virtual Network Meeting
- Spring 2021 - Presidium meeting/members' meeting
Due to the Corona pandemic, many dates and events have unfortunately been postponed.
Exciting topics await you again in our next newsletter, We will take a look at Interschutz 2022 and, of course, report on our official opening ceremony in May. Stay informed!
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