Posted by Dr. Robin Murphy
on April 10th, 2013 at 4:00 am CST – Updated: July 18th, 2013 at 2:35 pm CST
Dr. Tetsu Kimura and member of our IRS-CRASAR expeditions is coming back from Robocup Rescue in Iran and has asked about CRASAR robots for the Iran earthquake. I am taking the liberty of sharing my reply:
The earthquake is awful and what another tragic loss of life. I am a great admirer of Amir and his efforts. We’ve been watching the earthquake here– I don’t think the robots would be of much use but certainly would try to support a response. It is painful to see the loss of life.
The primary damage based on the media- which could be wrong- appears to be to mud and brick houses versus multi-story commercial buildings, if victims survive they are probably fairly shallow (less than 6m) and in voids surrounded by brick and mud has become sand– there are generally no voids from the surface to the survivor for the robot to penetrate. Dogs can readily detect the presence of a person and then it requires manpower for extraction. Existing techniques work well for depths of 6m. Robots are slow compared to canines, and CRASAR deployment with FLTF-3 during Hurricane Charley and FLTF-3 deployment of ground robots at Hurricane Katrina showed that ground robots didn’t provide a cost/benefit for wide area search of urban residences. So unless it’s a multi-story building such as an apartment that has collapsed, current ground robots won’t make a difference and we recommend more canine teams. In the future, something like Dan Goldman’s sandsnake robots on a large scale could help.
Landslides are also challenging for ground robots, as we saw at the La Conchita mudslides- as with the mud and brick residences you have nothing but dense dirt, not the void spaces seen in a commercial concrete structure.
The nuclear facility is another matter, of course, and the situation may call for ground and aerial inspection.
For the wide area search of residences, besides canine teams other technologies such as ground penetrating radar and better informatics to coordinate researchers and resources would be a huge potential contribution and why the Center for Emergency Informatics exists.
Finally, there is the large travel time as Satoshi noted for the Tanzania collapse, so we would arrive around 72 hours later, outside the probability of long-term survivors. The robots would add little to recovery of the critical infrastructure in this case.
Please let me know what you think. In the meantime our prayers are with the victims, their families, and the responders.