Subject: Robin Murphy, Raytheon Professor of Computer Science and Engineering.
Education: M.S. & Ph.D., Computer Science (1989 & 1992), Georgia Tech University; B.M.E., Mechanical Engineering (1980), Georgia Tech University.
Research Interests: Artificial intelligence for mobile robots as applied to disaster robotics.
What influenced your interest in using robots in emergency response?
"The 1995 Oklahoma City truck bombing. Until then, everybody was working on robots for Mars exploration. One of my graduate students who had search and rescue training helped in Oklahoma City. When he returned, he shifted his master’s thesis and I shifted my research. We became the first group to get a National Science Foundation grant with the words “rescue robot” in it."
What is RESPOND-R and why does it matter?
"It’s a mobile test instrument at Texas A&M launched in 2009 and supported by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It is a multidisciplinary and integrated research tool to facilitate field research in emergency informatics—the real-time collection, processing, distribution and visualization of information for prevention, preparedness, response and recovery from emergencies. We don’t yet know the best use of robotics, so we have to capture and analyze data, and get it to the decision-makers."
EMILY is a lifeguard-assistant robot in use by about 10 different countries.
Who is EMILY and how has she helped Syrian refugees?
"EMILY is a brand of lifeguard-assistant robot in use by about 10 different countries. Think of her as a life preserver on a mini jet ski that has a camera and two-way audio. Hydronaulix, one of our Roboticists Without Borders members, donated two units to the Hellenic Coast Guard and trained rescuers to use them. EMILY safely escorted more than 250 Syrian refugees to shore on five boats in the first two weeks of use. EMILY robots have been in use by agencies since 2010."
What are your thoughts on the robot used by Dallas police to kill a sniper?
"It was a teleoperated bomb squad robot—a tool just like any other used by the police. Were it not for that robot, it is my understanding that a police officer would have walked in, packed the C-4 charge and backed away slowly. It was a straight substitution. Police who operate these robots have trained for decades. It’s insulting to second-guess them. As a board member for the Responsible Robotics Foundation, I often think about the ethics of robotics. I think it can be unethical not to use robots when public safety is at risk."
What sets Texas A&M University apart in disaster robotics?
employs practitioners worldwide. Then there’s our top-notch engineering college. Add to that the humanitarian work that we’re seeing from the Texas Engineering Extension Service at the College of Architecture and The Bush School of Government and Public Service, which is looking at the regulatory side of disaster robotics, and you'll find a rare combination of expertise." Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center
With additional funds, what would you accomplish?
"First, we need rapid transportation to the scene of disasters, such as access to corporate jets or travel vouchers on commercial airlines. When lives are at stake, spending 24 to 36 hours in transit is unacceptable. Second, we need fellowships for graduate and post-doctoral students that will allow them to continue developing the disaster robotics field. We have ways of funding undergraduates, but graduate fellowships would dramatically enhance our success."