Japanese Search & Rescue Robots Helping Recovery Effort

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Six teams from Japan are back in their home country after experimenting with search and rescue robots with Texas A&M last week. Now those same robots are searching through the rubble for survivors.

The teams from Japanese universities worked over several days at Disaster City, that's run by the Texas Engineering Extension Service.

It's one of the few places in the world best suited for search and rescue training. Training that is now being put into action.

Research teams from Japan descended on Disaster City in College Station, putting their robots to the test.

"We are developing a response robot with high mobility and this rubble pile is very, what you say, realistic," said Dr. Satoshi Todakoro, a lead research professor from Japan last week.

Little did they know that the information gathered here in College Station, would quickly get tested in Japan.

After a major earthquake shook the island of Japan, it was the resulting tsunami that did more damage.

"This is the first time however that they're taking inflatable boats with them," explains Jeff Saunders, an Operations Chief with the Texas Engineering Extension Service. He has been in similar situations with Texas Task Force One.

"You'll have pockets of dry land surrounded by water that make it very hard to get in and out of," explains Saunders. "The boats are going to help them get to these smaller pockets to be able to do the land search that they need to do."

It's a slow process, sifting through the rubble. A Japanese robot named "Quincy" is now helping first responders in Japan.

"'Quincy' is going to be used to go into some buildings that which are still intact but have some leaking chemicals and they want the robot to go and check it out ," says Dr. Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at Texas A&M.

Robots like Quincy were brought to Disaster city a week before the quake. But disasters also provided scientists with a chance to see how new types of robots work.

"Underwater vehicles or surfaces vehicles that can see underwater can help with the inspection for bridge damage," says Dr. Murphy.

"Disasters fortunately happen infrequently, so we try to take advantage. Help where we can help and always learning where we can learn," stresses Dr. Murphy.