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ARCHE 2020 – Swiss robotics for the disaster relief of the future

In today’s world, technologies are evolving constantly and rapidly. This also applies for the area of disaster relief, where robotics is to be used more and more to support humans. Within armasuisse S+T, the suitability of robot use can be evaluated and more learned about users’ needs with ARCHE.

16.07.2020 | Specialist Area Communication, Alisha Held

Drohne vor dem Abheben auf dem Boden

ARCHE – The eye of the future

ARCHE stands for Advanced Robotic Capabilities for Hazardous Environments and includes an annual event of the Swiss Drone and Robotic Centre of the DDPS (SRDZ VBS). The goal of the research instrument ARCHE is to evaluate the technological maturity level and the suitability of use of Swiss robotics for the disaster relief of the future. Robots are not intended to replace humans, but support them in 4D activities (dull, dirty, dangerous, denied) and thus increase the efficiency and effectivity of disaster relief. The intention is to save lives as well as protect and unburden first responders.

The training unit Genius/Rescue/ABC (LVb G/Rttg/ABC), the ETH Zurich and the national research focus «NCCR Robotics» are working together under the supervision of armasuisse Science + Technology (S+T). Through this cooperation, ARCHE will become a platform which enables science, the federal authorities, industry and other organisations for rescue and safety to establish contacts, present research work and obtain information about the latest technologies. This results in a «win-win» situation for all parties involved. Scientists can thus gather realistic data for application-oriented research, for example, while the organisations can discover and evaluate new opportunities for deploying robots in the future.

Integration week ARCHE

This year, a week-long ARCHE integration week took place for the third time in the training environment of the rescue troops in Wangen an der Aare. A total of 17 research teams from Switzerland took part in this experience, the largest Swiss event for examining robotic applications for disaster relief to date, with a variety of diverse and interesting systems. In addition, two teams of students were present with their focus projects, called DroGone and RoBoa. As part of their Bachelor’s training at the ETH Zurich, the students developed a robot prototype from a concept within two semesters.

During this week, all participants had the opportunity to test their robots in realistic environments under simulated disaster scenarios such as fire, flood and earthquake disasters, as well as to gather experience and record data benefiting the practical orientation of research.

Research project 1: ANYmal

A returning guest was ANYmal, a four-legged walking robot. This year, the research team of the ETH Zurich was on location with the same concept but a new hardware – the «ANYmal C». «At the ARCHE test events, we have the unique opportunity to test the robot in different environments, for example underground, and to collect data», says a member of the research team. Data collection is crucial for developing and deploying the robot. The walking robot can be used in challenging environments and at inaccessible locations thanks to its autonomous operation and is particularly suitable for scenarios such as search and rescue operations, inspections and exploration activities. In order for the robot to perceive the surroundings, laser sensors and cameras, amongst other equipment, are installed.

A significant milestone was the delivery of the first manufactured ANYmal C robot to development partners and research customers worldwide, which took place in June 2020. The automation company ANYbotics is responsible for the commercialisation.

Research project 2: Drone fighter Mobula

The drone fighter Mobula has been developed by a research team from the Rapperswil University of Technology in cooperation with an industry partner. This is a surface drone which can fly autonomously and exhibits high speed as well as exceptional manoeuvrability. The drone’s equipment includes camera systems, an on-board computer and a net gun. This cannon is integrated in the Mobula’s wing. As soon as the target drone has been focused and the distance allows a hit, the net is fired.

In addition to warding off small drones with a net gun, Mobula can be used for other purposes. Alien drones can be approached and pursued autonomously.  Departure from predefined flight routes for image material recording is also possible.

Drone fighter Mobula
Drone fighter Mobula

Focus project: RoBoa

The rescue worm RoBoa is one of the two focus projects by a team of students from the ETH Zurich and at the same time the continuation of the predecessor project «Proboscis». This robot is intended for deployment in the event of earthquakes and the recovery of buried people involved in these disasters. They will support emergency helpers in localisation, communication and first aid.

In order for the robot to be deployed for this task, a tube is used outside the pipe – the inversion pipe – as the main drive system, which minimises the friction and is moved by air pressure. With a diameter of 10 cm, the rescue worms fits through small openings and the length of up to 17 metres enables it to crawl far into a field of debris, for example. The robot’s head contains, amongst other equipment, a microphone and a loudspeaker for communication with the victim.

The students in the focus project RoBoa particularly appreciate the exchange of ideas on site. «Every day, people kept coming by and giving us input on the robot» said a research member. 

Link between the armed forces, research and industry

ARCHE is a platform where exchange of information between researchers, but also between developers and users is promoted with an open and positive learning culture and forms a link between the armed forces, research and industry. Whilst the researchers gain a better awareness of application, the users can increase their understanding of technology and are thus enabled to recognise the border between reality and fiction more clearly and to identify technological trends earlier on.