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RoboCup Rescue Logo

Urban Search and Rescue Robot Competitions

Competition Overview:

The goal of the urban search and rescue (USAR) robot competitions is to increase awareness of the challenges involved in search and rescue applications, provide objective evaluation of robotic implementations in representative environments, and promote collaboration between researchers.  It requires robots to demonstrate their capabilities in mobility, sensory perception, planning, mapping, and practical operator interfaces, while searching for simulated victims in unstructured environments.  As robot teams begin demonstrating repeated successes against the obstacles posed in the arenas, the level of difficulty will be increased accordingly so that the arenas provide a stepping-stone from the laboratory to the real world.  Meanwhile, the yearly competitions will provide direct comparison of robotic approaches, objective performance evaluation, and a public proving ground for field-able robotic systems that will ultimately be used to save lives.

Competition Vision:

When disaster happens, minimize risk to search and rescue personnel, while increasing victim survival rates, by fielding teams of collaborative robots which can: 

  • Autonomously negotiate compromised and collapsed structures
  • Find victims and ascertain their conditions
  • Produce practical maps of their locations
  • Deliver sustenance and communications
  • Identify hazards
  • Emplace sensors (acoustic, thermal, hazmat, seismic, etc,…)
  • Provide structural shoring
    …allowing human rescuers to quickly locate and extract victims.

It is ideal for the robots to be capable of all the tasks outlined in the vision, with the first three directly encouraged in the current performance metric. The remaining tasks will be emphasized in future versions of the performance metric.

Search Scenario:

A building has partially collapsed due to earthquake.

The Incident Commander in charge of rescue operations at the disaster site, fearing secondary collapses from aftershocks, has asked for teams of robots to immediately search the interior of the building for victims.

The mission for the robots and their operators is to find victims, determine their situation, state, and location, and then report back their findings in a map of the building and a victim data sheet.

The section near the building entrance appears relatively intact while the interior of the structure exhibits increasing degrees of collapse. Robots must negotiate the lightly damaged areas prior to encountering more challenging obstacles and rubble.

The robots are considered expendable in case of difficulty.

Arenas and Simulated Victims:

The rescue arenas constructed to host these competitions are based on the Reference Test Arenas for Urban Search and Rescue Robots developed by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Three arenas, named yellow, orange, and red to indicate their increasing levels of difficulty, form a continuum of challenges for the robots. A maze of walls, doors, and elevated floors provide various tests for robot navigation and mapping capabilities.  Variable flooring, overturned furniture, and problematic rubble provide obvious physical obstacles. Sensory obstacles, intended to confuse specific robot sensors and perception algorithms, provide additional challenges. Intuitive operator interfaces and robust sensory fusion algorithms are highly encouraged to reliably negotiate the arenas and locate victims.

Rescue Robot League Arenas and Teams in Osaka, Japan.


The objective for each robot in the competition, and the incentive to traverse every corner of each arena, is to find simulated victims.  Each simulated victim is a clothed mannequin emitting body heat and other signs of life, including motion (shifting, waving), sound (moaning, yelling, tapping), and/or carbon dioxide to simulate breathing.  Particular combinations of these sensor signatures imply the victim’s state: unconscious, semi-conscious, or aware.

Signs of Life photo

Simulated Victim Signs of Life

Each victim is placed in a particular rescue situation: surface, trapped, void, or entombed.  The victims are distributed throughout the environment in roughly the same situational percentages found in actual earthquake statistics. Each victim also displays an identification tag that is usually placed in hard to reach areas around the victim, requiring advanced robot mobility to identify. Once a victim is found, the robot(s) must determine the victim’s location, situation, state, and tag, and then report their findings on a human readable map.
Date Created: December 8, 2004
Last updated:
March 1, 2011