Next Gen Search & Rescue Robots Tested at 'Disaster City'

By: Michael Oder Email
By: Michael Oder Email

When disasters strike, sometimes rescuers can't get into crumbled buildings.

That's when robots come in to play.

Now, international research at Disaster City near Texas A&M may eventually save lives worldwide.

In dark and dusty places, these American and Japanese researchers are at home. They're creating the next generation of search and rescue robots.

"We're seeing the mobility change to more biometric type, pneumatic types, where you've got snakes, you've got caterpillar robots," say Dr. Robin Murphy. She runs the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at Texas A&M University. Murphy has seen first hand the devastation after natural disasters.

"It's just incredible. As a scientist, it breaks your heart because you can see the possibilities for the technology and to make a difference to those people whose lives and whose families are at their wits end," says Murphy.

This pile of rubble at Disaster City might not look like much, but to scientists and researchers it's exactly what they need to see how these robots will perform when real world catastrophes happen.

When buildings collapse like they did during a severe earthquake in New Zealand in February, it's critical for first responders to find survivors in the debris. The recovery effort can be dangerous.

"The disaster side is very dangerous. sometimes first responders have secondary injuries, so we try to contribute to improve the safety," says Doctor Satoshi Tadokoro, a researcher from the Japan Science and Technology Agency.

Besides staying safe, rescuers are too big to fit through small openings in the rubble.

"Just like snakes can burrow through all sorts of crowded spaces, this robot can go where other robots just can't," says Doctor Howie Choset. He and his team from Carnegie Melon University are working on one of the most unique robots around.

This snake-like device can be dropped down a hole just 2 inches wide.

These scientists will continue their research, looking for the next best tool to save lives.

There are several types of robots being tested at the Texas Engineering Extension Service "Disaster City" this week. Results from these experiments will be useful in developing the next generation of rescue robots.

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