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Agent-based Area Exploration and Event Detection in Emergency Scenarios

1st November 2007 to 31st October 2009
When an emergency occurs within a building, it is critical to explore the area as fast as possible in order to find victims and contain hazards. Initially, the area is off-limits for human responders unless they are equipped with specialized equipment, and even then, their lives may be endangered if they are unaware of the extent of hazards within the area. In this project, we propose the deployment of a group of autonomous mobile nodes, referred to as agents, to acquire all the information that could assist the task of the first responders. Such operations, however, may be obstructed by a number of limitations, e.g. the possible lack of a terrain map (the environment could anyway be heavily changed after a disaster), the failure of previously established networks, and the short-range and often unreliable wireless indoor communication. In addition, it might be difficult to use GPS positioning inside a building, so an agent cannot rely on knowledge of its exact location in the terrain, even if it were able to keep memory of its previous steps. In this project, we take into account these limitations, and propose a novel architecture consisting of both mobile nodes (agents) and stationary nodes (inexpensive smart devices). As agents enter the emergency area, they sprinkle inexpensive smart devices on the floor to tag the environment with a state. By reading and updating the local state (the state of the tags within a short communication range), agents are able to coordinate indirectly with each other, without relying on long-range wireless communication among each other. Our objectives are 1) to devise distributed algorithms for the autonomous exploration of unknown terrains by a team of agents; 2) to train agents to detect hazards and victims. Since hazards can move, expand or shrink, agents should be able to continuously track changes in the emergency area; and 3) to design algorithms that will enable agents to assist human responders in safely navigating through the hazardous area. This involves preventing human personnel from being trapped by hazards, whilst helping them to rapidly access the rooms where victims were previously identified.

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