Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and the responders in Mexico. CRASAR has not been contacted about robots but this blog may be of use in thinking about how to use robots.
Ground, aerial, and marine robots have been used in several earthquakes. A good overview of ground robots for structural collapse is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Cm2bGlUjbQ. It’s an older documentary but all the issues and gear are still the same.
Small unmanned aerial vehicles are probably everyone’s first thought for earthquakes, in part to map out the extent of the damage. They can also be used to help responders determine the shortest, most debris-free route to locations or interest. For the reconstruction and recovery phases, UAS have been used to fly around and in large buildings that are suspected of being too dangerous for structural specialists to enter and assess the risk of further collapse- for example the cathedrals in Canterbury NZ, Mirandola ,Italy, and Amatrice, Italy. After the Tohoku earthquake, many experts pointed out that UAVs should be used to determine the state of hospitals- both whether the hospital is still functional but also if it is being overwhelmed by patients.
Ground robots also have a role. An earthquake may cause buildings to completely collapse where there are no voids that a responder can get into. The general strategy is to use a canine team to determine if there are survivors in the rubble (dogs can tell if the person is still alive). Typically a boroscope or a camera on a wand is inserted to try to see if they can locate the survivors and also get a sense of the best was to remove material to get to them. The boroscope or a camara on a wand can only go about 18 feet into the rubble, depending on how twisty the void is. In a major building collapse, survivors may be much further, which is why small, shoe-box sized robots such as an Inuktun VGTV may be used. The “cameras on tracks” robots can pull themselves into the rubble and also change shape to help get into tight spots. These small robots will usually be tethered, with the tether acting as a belay line and the tether preventing loss of signal.
Some interesting robots are the snake robots being developed by Howie Choset at CMU and the Active Scope Camera caterpillar robot being developed by Olympus in conjunction with Japanese researchers led by Satoshi Tadokoro. The ASC was used at the Jacksonville building collapse in 2007.
Bigger ground robots, such as those used at Fukushima, can be used in bigger buildings but gepnerally can’t see the ceilings, which is usually very important and happened the New Zealand earthquake. They can’t go into small voids and may be too heavy- they could cause delicately balanced rubble to further collapse and kill a survivor underneath.
Marine robots, especially ROVs, are important as was seen in the Haiti earthquake and Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The earthquake may have changed the shipping channels, damaged bridges and ports, and put debris in unexpected places. Thus shipping is stopped until the shipping channels are cleared- and as was seen at Haiti it’s hard to feed a country with one airport. Shipping is extremely important for getting relief supplies in.
There are more details in the case studies in Disaster Robotics and the Springer Handbook of Robotics on what robots have been used and particular strategies. All of us are happy to answer questions. We wish everyone the best on this terrible event.