Every day, robotic technologies save human lives in a variety of situations. Robots can go where it is unsafe for human beings in first response situations, and they can be fully controlled by trained operators. Usually, the robot operator experiences the situation being assessed only through a user interface combining a set of perceptual cues provided by the robot sensors. Moreover, the operator interacts with the robot using control devices similar to those commonly used to control virtual reality artifacts, like video game characters or synthetic avatars operating in cyberspace.
Thanks to a synergy between the robotics group at UC Merced and the Merced Sheriff Office SWAT team, the goal of this project is to explore how this interplay between virtual reality and robotics can lead to the development of better training tools for first responders. A unique feature of this project is the partnership between end-users already using tactical robots and a university research team with multi-year experience in the field of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) robots.