Intelligent Automation announced that its sensor payload, which can determine the distance between robots inside a building, is currently being beta-tested as part of DARPA’s LANdroids program. The program was developed to address the obstacles inside buildings that impact the manner in which radio signals propagate that can leave sensors without the ability to reach back to incident command or each other, said Eric van Doorn, the company’s chief scientist.

DARPA asked industry to develop prototype tracking devices for firefighters who work inside buildings. Van Doorn said the LANdroid program hopes to addresses in-building interference by creating autonomous robotic radio relay nodes to establish and maintain mesh networks that support voice and data traffic and mitigate communications problems present in urban settings, e.g., relaying signals into shadows and making small adjustments to reduce multi-path effects. He said his team’s role was to develop and now test its sensor payload package that measures distance between robots, which firefighters drop on the ground during deployment to form the mesh network, he said.

“The robots are dropped as they go, or the firefighter takes them with them,” van Doorn clarified.

The robots are about 10-inches long by 5-inches wide and house sensors and camera packages, van Doorn said. Location data, video or temperature readings are transmitted over the unlicensed band from robot to robot to a gateway outside. The robots have a battery life of 1.5 hours, he said.

Van Doorn said in the future, the sensor package may be independent of the robot.

“You get rid of the robot and use the sensors inside a firefighters’ turnout gear,” he said.

The DARPA project is a three-year effort currently in its second year, van Doorn said.