We are just getting word of several building collapses in the Taiwan earthquake, here are some thoughts and data on how robots have been used in previous collapses…
Ground robots may be of the most value. In a situation like this where the building has collapsed, small robots will likely to get into voids and go deeper than the 18-20 feet that a camera on a probe or a boroscope can go into. Note that canines would normally be used first to indicate that people are alive (if there was any doubt about occupancy). The ground robots would be used to try to localize the survivors AND allow the rescue team to at the same time understand the internal layout of the structure. If they can better understand the internal layout of the “pixie sticks” of the rubble, they can extricate the victims faster and with less chance of triggering a secondary collapse. Most of the ground robots used, such as the Inuktun series which have been used the most, have 2 way audio so the responders can talk to the victims.
With our colleague Eric Rasmussen, MD FACP, we’ve experimented with how a small robot can carry tubing allowing a survivor to have water. With members of Texas Task Force 1 medical team, we’ve experimented with how doctors can use the robot to communicate with the survivor, assess their injuries, and engage the survivors- as it may take 4-10 hours to be extracted.
Similar situations where ground robots have been used for multi-story commercial building collapses are:
- 2001 9/11 World Trade Center collapse
- 2010 Prospect Towers collapse
- 2011 Christchurch earthquake
Ground robots are often not used in earthquakes, such as the Japanese earthquake, because of building resilience and codes. Residential homes are small, often wood, and fairly easy to locate victims with canine teams and then extracting. Adding a robot doesn’t really speed up anything.
UAVs can give an overview of a collapse, but generally it has been the “inside” view that responders need the most and can’t get any other way.