ACE-OPS: From Autonomy to Cognitive assistance in Emergency OPerationS

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Computer Science


The vision of this collaborative multi-centre project is to safeguard and transform current operation protocols of emergency teams by providing sensing, situation awareness, cognitive assistance and mobile autonomy capabilities working synergistically as a single system. Statistics collected by the Home Office report 346 fire related fatalities in England during 2016/2017, the highest figure since 2011/12. Over a 10-year period in USA, 2775 firefighters died on duty. Where there is a need to save and evacuate people from a burning or flooded building, it is important for the chief incident commander to have increased situational awareness and to be able to effectively coordinate the rescue operation, and for individual responders to have enhanced visibility of surrounding hazards and dangers. To this end, we need to combine UK-based expertise in mobile autonomy and people localisation, with internationally leading expertise on welfare monitoring and cognitive assistance at the Univ. of Virginia, and on robotic vision applied to aerial vehicles at the Queensland University of Technology.

The proposed work involves four distinct research directions: 1) providing an integrated system for situation awareness that involves localisation of the emergency responders, monitoring of their welfare and mapping of the dynamically changing environment; 2) exploring how situation awareness information should be fed into cognitive assistance tools, in order to provide helpful triggers and alerts to the incident commander and their team; 3) introducing various levels of autonomy enabling aerial vehicles to simultaneously perform tasks of mapping, communication and localisation; and 4) integrating the above capabilities and building the first end-to-end response system that implements the full feedback loop from sensor acquisition to emergency responders and back to sensor actuation. Sensors on people's wearable devices together with sensors mounted on aerial vehicles will contribute to data acquisition for welfare, location and environment monitoring. This in turn will provide input to cognitive assistance for emergency response teams, helping them to assess the situation. They will then in turn provide feedback to sensor systems to prioritise monitoring of specific areas, people or tasks, thus dynamically influencing the next round of situation awareness, and so on. This feedback loop will be a step change providing a whole new approach to safety for emergency responders.

Planned Impact

First responders operate in extremely hazardous and dangerous conditions, risking their lives and wellbeing to save others. In the UK, 14 firefighters lost their lives over the ten year period 2003-2014. Internationally, over the same period, 2775 firefighters died in the USA.
The ambulance and police services similarly face hostile and perilous working conditions. The challenges faced by first responders motivates the need for an urgent and internationally guided effort to improve the state-of-the-art in terms of situational awareness, reducing first responder deaths and injuries. In turn, better operating knowledge translates to improved outcomes for victim rescue, impacting the broader public through faster and more targetted responses. This has widespread social and welfare benefits. To achieve these goals, our proposed project includes strong support from Dstl and the Home Office to incorporate technological advances into first responder practice in the UK. More broadly, they will also support the project through exposure at the International Forum to Advance First Responder Innovation (IFAFRI) which links Australia, Canada, the European Commission, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, and the United States. Through existing partnerships, we have strong links with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) which is the umbrella organization for informing government and formulating best operating practice and guidance. At a regional level, we have an ongoing relationship with the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, whose facilities and expertise we will use for testing. Internationally, in the United States, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is leading the Public Safety Innovation Accelerator Program which seeks to transform first responder protocol and safety through advanced technology. Trigoni and Stakonovic both lead grants funded by NIST and this provides an ideal mechanism for widespread impact to the first responder community in the United States. Through NIST, UVA and its associated stakeholder conferences, we will disseminate key findings of this project and work closely with US services. We will work with these and other partners to inform technology design, test and refine implementations and create a novel platform that will provide the first end-to-end first responder technology for cognitive, autonomous and enhanced situational awareness and control. The ultimate successful impact of this project will be the adoption of the designed technology which leads to a reduction in fatalities and injuries, both to first responders and the general public.

In terms of economic impact, improved situational awareness and response can lead to better management of disasters and incidents. Benefits of improved safety could lead to lower first responder time loss due to hospitalization etc. Better monitoring of welfare can also lead to more targeted and informed responses to factors such as dehydration and heat stress. It is also likely that the technology created will generate new intellectual property, with consequent opportunity for licensing, spinout and commercial exploitation.

Workshops will be run at the end of years 2 and 3 to disseminate findings and network with key partners, academic, governmental and from the first responder community. We will also pursue high impact publications in leading conferences and journals e.g. AAAI, IJCAI, ICRA, NIPS, TPAMI etc., to disseminate our novel research.

The national and international importance of this project makes it a high profile demonstration of how the UK research councils are funding state-of-the-art techniques for improving rescue. As such, this Centre-to-Centre project will attract the interest of the wider public, which will be exploited through a dedicated, media-rich website, frequent press releases and feature articles in the popular press.


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Lu C (2020) milliEgo