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Robotics conference kicks off at ShanghaiTech University

    Experts from China and abroad gathered at ShanghaiTech University on Wednesday to kick off an international conference to share their ideas and latest achievements about robotics for safety, security, and rescue applications.

    The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) International Symposium on Safety, Security, and Rescue Robotics is the 15th of its kind but is the first time to be held in China.

    At the conference, experts talked about cutting-edge theory and practice of robotics and automation for all types of safety, security, and rescue applications such as disaster response and recovery, rapid and secure inspection of critical infrastructure, detection of chemical, biological and radiological risks, and operations in these dangerous sites.

    Soeren Schwertfeger, assistant professor at ShanghaiTech University and general chair of the conference this year, said this is an important topic, because in the near future robots will help save lots of lives when disasters such as earthquakes or explosions happen.

    He said currently rescue robots do not really rescue persons but play supporting roles.

    "It's very difficult (to rescue victims). It requires really big, heavy and very expensive robots," he said. "What they can do is to enter a building which is very dangerous to find if there are victims or to see the situation there so that we can decide whether it's necessary to send human."

    He mentioned that drones produced by Chinese company DJI had been used in Nepal after the earthquake in 2015 to fly over the area and access the damage there, while Japanese robotic rescue team had also sent their research robots to the Fukushima Daiichi after the earthquake in 2011 to explore the nuclear disaster site.

    Schwertfeger also pointed out that there are many limitations that prevent rescue robots from large-scale application.

    "The robots are very expensive and there is not a big market, so the industry is not that interested in developing such robots," he said. "That's why my research is concentrating on very small and cheap robots. It's affordable and it doesn't matter if the robot gets lost when being used."

    Schwertfeger is director of the ShanghaiTech Automation and Robotics Center.