Tornadoes and robots

I’m getting asked about why aren’t robots being used in Alabama, below is an informal description of the utility of air, land, and sea vehicles for these situations. Our hearts go out to the families- having seen 400 miles of this type of devastation we know that every square inch is a person’s life or livelihood.

Aerial vehicles are probably the most useful in these situations. Micro fixed wing UAVs that responders can literally throw to launch can quickly give the respond team a view of the situation and allows them to control what they are looking at. Medium resolution but on-demand with immediate viewing and feedback (“no– over there”) is  superior for immediate operations to getting super high resolution images with almost everything you wanted to see a couple of hours after you asked for it.  The responders and other decision makers need different resolutions of data and at different times.

Ground robots are less useful– the rubble isn’t particularly deep- remember, in general the sweet spot for a rescue robot is to penetrate further than 20 feet. Plus it’s the houses and non-engineered structures that get wiped out, so the density and style of collapse is different from the World Trade Center, parking garage collapses (e.g., Berkman Plaza II in Jacksonville or the Hackensack NJ apartment building), and building collapses (e.g., Cologne Germany Archives Building) where robots have been used by CRASAR and New Jersey Task Force 1.

Also, just a reminder to people thinking about IED “Hurt Locker” robots, in these situations you are often standing on the top of the rubble/roof and trying to work down into the rubble. So you want very small robots on a tether/belay to wiggle in and find voids. Mark Micire’s analysis of the use of tethered robots at the WTC for his Masters showed that tethers actually help the operators get the robot through the rubble in these vertical descents.

Canines give a great indication is someone is buried and a search camera (camera on a pole) is a great one-two high tech/low tech combination and search teams are incredibly fast. Rescue robots make sense where they do things that people and dogs can’t do or can do significantly faster.

Marine vehicles can help with victim and economic recovery- lots of things get pushed into ponds and lakes- but this is usually of interest later after the initial rescue phase.

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