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Imaging through low-visibility fire smoke for ship-board navigation of robotic fire-fighting systems


OBJECTIVE: Identify sensing modalites, sensors and image processing that can image through smoke (where visibility of a light reflecting object is less than 1 ft). This sensing and imaging system must be compact enough to be incorporated into future shipboard robotic firefighting systems, and enable navigation by revealing surfaces, doorways and obstacles. DESCRIPTION: Fire suppression onboard a ship is one of the most dangerous jobs that sailors may need to perform. In addition, firefighting requires numerous sailors to conduct taking the crew away from performing other tasks on the ship. To help reduce the hazards associated with fighting fires onboard ships, the Navy is developing new robotic systems for fighting fires. One of the challenges in developing these new systems is having sensors that are capable of seeing through the low visibility smoke which may develop during a fire. To support firefighting activities, a sensing and imaging device is needed to locate the boundaries of the ship, equipment and furnishings within the space and other obstructions. Fire conditions may evolve quickly; therefore, this device must be able to scan the space to locate surfaces in a short period of time to support the firefighting systems. Smoke strongly attenuates visible light, and also significantly impedes the function of LADAR imaging. Thermal inhomogeneities and turbulence also confound imaging in fire conditions. There are however some promising detection, ranging and imaging methodologies that may include near IR, mid IR, millimeter wave imaging, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and/or active ultrasound technology (or some combination thereof) that will need to be further explored to enable future autonomous robotic firefighting operations within the confines of a shipboard environment. A combination of far field (eg. wall, door opening, obstacle detection&mapping) and near field (navigation through narrow openings) sensing may be necessary. PHASE I: Identify the most promising sensing mode, spectral regions and imaging approach for imaging surfaces, boundaries and objects, including casualties, through smoke. Identify a sensor or sensor array that could be mounted on a human sized robot and develop imaging approaches to support navigation and obstacle avoidance, as well as fire location. A nominal guideline is that the proposed sensing and imaging device be able to locate reflecting surfaces from 15 ft away through smoke with a visibility of less than 1 ft as determined through relationships developed by Jin [1]. The design study should estimate the speed at such a system can locate the boundary and highlight the method by which the device will be able to scan the obstructions and boundaries inside a compartment. Devices must also be capable of accounting for elevated temperature gases produced by the fire and its affect on boundary location. Estimates of the cost, performance, size and power of such a system should be made. PHASE II: Develop a prototype system and demonstrate that it is capable of locating boundaries and obstructions in scenarios containing smoke from a real fire. The device should be able to locate boundaries and obstructions, nominally 15 ft away within 1 second. Develop a system for navigation of a mobile robot based on the sensor imagery. Design a compact, lightweight version of this system. PHASE III: Contractors shall work with the Navy and their contractors to implement the device developed in this program into advanced firefighting systems. In addition, the contractor shall identify commercial vendors that may transition this technology into the commercial sector to support public firefighters in navigating through low visibility smoke environments in building fires. PRIVATE SECTOR COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL/DUAL-USE APPLICATIONS: This system would be applicable to public firefighters working in low visibility smoke environments in building fires and first responders seeking casualties and evacuation routes in disasters involving smoke or other obscurants, and this technology would provide substantive commercial opportunities.
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