Australia — A UNIVERSITY of Newcastle mechatronics team is developing technology that could enable the use of robotic systems to reduce the risk posed to fire fighters. Associate Professor Tristan Perez is working with the Australian Department of Defence and companies like Boeing Research and Technology Australia to research and develop ground-breaking strategies for guidance, navigation, and motion control for a flock of next generation Intelligent Autonomous Vehicles (IAV).
Assoc Prof Perez said IAV technology had the potential to minimise risk to fire fighters by removing, as much as possible, humans from the dangerous frontline.
Fleets of fully autonomous aircraft could be used in the future to monitor bush areas for rapid detection of fire spots to reduce the firefighters response time, he said.
The same aircraft could be used for personnel support by incorporating various sensors, communication capabilities and human interfaces for streaming information to improve situational awareness.
Water-bombing helicopters could also be unmanned. These vehicles operate in low visibility, high winds, and with high chances of getting the buckets entangled in power lines. By removing the pilot we remove most of the risk.
Assoc Prof Perez said to integrate IAVs in spaces shared with piloted vehicles, progress was needed along four fronts: technology, regulation and certification, economics, and public acceptance.
Although there have been great technological developments in IAVs such as unmanned aircraft, there are still areas that require further development, he said.
These include sense and avoid for obstacles and other vehicles, human factors for better human-machine communication, robust communication links, and emergency-handling situations where the vehicle health is compromised.
When it comes to regulation and certification, a key question is how do we assess the quality of decision-making as the level of autonomy in the vehicles increase?
Today, unmanned vehicle operations use only remotely-piloted vehicles. As the level of autonomy increases, there is a need for new risk management frameworks and regulation that could handle higher levels of autonomy.
Assoc Prof Perez said the cost of unmanned vehicles was still inhibiting.
One way to reduce the cost is to use multiple cheaper vehicles and share resources but this brings significant challenges in terms of safety, regulation, and certification, he said.