Mixed signals degrade rescue missions

Researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology report that the radio transmissions of multiple search and rescue robots can interfere with one another and degrade rescue missions.


Researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology report that the radio transmissions of multiple search and rescue robots can interfere with one another.



Prototypes and commercial models of urban search and rescue (US&R) robots will soon begin work across the US. Too many of these robots, however, could prove detrimental, according to researchers at NIST, who report that the radio transmissions of multiple robots can interfere with each other and degrade search and rescue performance.



A NIST analysis of wireless radio field trials for US&R robots, presented at a conference on February 28, found that 10 out of the 14 robots tested experienced communication problems due to radio interference from other systems.



Engineers carried out tests on the robots last August at a US&R robot standards development gathering in Gaithersburg, Maryland, sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security. The researchers found that neither use of “industrial, scientific, and medical” (ISM) frequency bands nor adherence to protocols designed to minimize interference between systems in the bands could guarantee flawless communication between a robot and its human operator.



Radio interference could happen whenever the ISM frequency bands became crowded or when one user had a much higher output power than the others. An example of the latter problem occurred during the tests when transmitters in the 1760MHz band knocked out video links in the 2.4GHz frequency band. In another case, a robot using an 802.11b signal in the 2.4GHz band overwhelmed and cut off a robot that had been transmitting an analog video link at 2.414GHz.


The NIST paper lists a number of ways to improve urban search and rescue wireless communications. Options, some of which are currently being investigated by robot manufacturers, include changes in frequency coordination, transmission protocols, power output, access priority, and using relay transformers to increase the range of wireless transmissions (a technique known as multi-hop communications). The paper also suggests establishing new access schemes or software-defined radios that allow interoperable communications.