The H.E.R.O. (Hazardous Environment RecOnnaissance) Sensor is an amalgamation of sensors mounted on an optional pan/tilt unit with the intelligence to autonomously scan an area for specific heat signatures. HERO’s AI communicates 3D location information with the robotic platform (land-, water- or air-based) to which it is mounted to offer navigation suggestions. It also communicates sensor information and acquired images to an operations center allowing it to function with or without human guidance.
HERO was originally conceptualized to help Fire Departments. The majority of America's firefighters are volunteers; volunteers that are becoming increasingly difficult to find and keep. Many departments are understaffed so larger scenes are difficult to manage with the few resources available. Robots are a great tool to help offload tasks onto but they just aren't seen in emergency situations, mostly because they still require a human to operate. The true value lies in autonomy: a robot could quench a fire while firefighters do the more important search and rescue; or a robot could assist in search and rescue in situations where firefighters cannot enter (unstable floor, etc.) or where more eyes are simply needed.
As the design matured it quickly became evident that HERO can help in any situation where another set of eyes with some intelligence behind them could assist – wilderness search and rescue from a small fleet of aerial drones that self-navigate and possess the means to look for heat signatures, not just visible cues. SWAT could also utilize a means to search a building while minimizing the risk to human lives.
Initially armed with a FLIR camera, an IR Temperature Sensor, an air-quality sensor and a distance measurement sensor mounted on a pan/tilt mechanism, this autonomous sensor package can scan an area for recognizable heat signatures in an environment unfriendly to rescuers. It will also monitor the area for air quality so rescuers know how to prepare should they need to enter the area. Additional or alternate sensors can be utilized in the future, but the aforementioned sensors were chosen for proof of concept. Various means of communications ranging from wired to long-range RF nearly complete the hardware suite, leaving only a Cortex-M7 to drive the hardware and is capable of running an AI engine.
More than a simple collection of sensors, the intelligence is the true innovation here. The HERO has to learn what a person (or animal) “looks like” as opposed to a fire or hot spot that needs extinguishing. And it must be able to recognize those learned signatures at varying distances. More development is needed here, but the concept platform thus far is promising. More design time must also be afforded to hardening the HERO to the environments in which it will operate.
Manufacturing requires no special processes or controls – it is a standard, modern electronics assembly that can be populated/de-populated to suit the target installation.
This product is the tip of the proverbial iceberg – intelligent sensors can be used everywhere!