Texas A&M

Being There

Being at disasters is the apotheosis of field robotics; hardware and software must work with real people under challenging temporal and environmental conditions. We have shifted over the past 10 years from traditional hypothesis-driven, top-down research to a bottom-up approach where research questions are extracted directly from field experiences. The types of questions and ideas that arise for robotics from "being there" are illustrated through three high profile incidents: the 9-11 World Trade Center disaster, Hurricane Katrina, and the Crandall Canyon Utah mine collapse. Two major themes have emerged. A paradigmatic theme is that rescue robots, and possibly all robots, are part of joint cognitive systems. A second, unfortunate, theme is frequent confirmation of Norman's scathing assessment that "roboticists automate what is easy and leave the rest to the human," leading to poor designs. The solution to Norman's assessment is getting roboticists out of the laboratory and into the field with real users, which is the heart of the Field Robotics Institute. We salute the Field Robotics Institute for its leadership and vision on its 25th anniversary.


Robin Roberson Murphy received a B.M.E. in mechanical engineering, a M.S. and Ph.D in computer science in 1980, 1989, and 1992, respectively, from Georgia Tech, where she was a Rockwell International Doctoral Fellow. She is the Raytheon Professor of Computer Science at Texas A&M. Dr. Murphy is best known for her seminal work in rescue robotics, most recently assisting with the responses to the Crandall Canyon and Midas Gold mine disasters. Since 1995, she has focused on emergency response as the test domain for her research, leading to her participation in the first known use of robots for urban search and rescue (US&R) at the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster. Since then she has participated in the Hurricane Charley and La Conchita mudslide responses and introduced small fixed- and rotary-wing UAVs at Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, she was awarded the Al Aube Outstanding Contributor award by the AUVSI Foundation, the first time the award has been given to an academic, and was profiled in the June 14, 2004, issue of TIME Magazine as an innovator in Artificial Intelligence. Her basic research focuses on artificial intelligence and human-robot interaction for unmanned systems. These efforts are/have been funded by DoE (RIM), DARPA, ONR, NASA, NSF and industry, and have led to over 100 publications in the field, including the textbook Introduction to AI Robotics (MIT Press). Dr. Murphy is active in the robotics, industrial, and military communities and was awarded the US Air Force Exemplary Civilian Service Award in 2005. She is an associate editor for IEEE Intelligent Systems, a Distinguished Speaker for the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, and has served on numerous boards, including the Defense Science Board, USAF SAB, NSF CISE Advisory Council, and DARPA ISAT.