Chile and tsunami: what robots can do

The news this morning of the Chilean earthquake continues to highlight the possibilities for robots to help in the response and recovery.

Certainly the big surveillance UAVs such as the Predator and Global Hawk variants can give a “big picture” overview, but don’t forget that search and rescue is largely done by small teams working independently who need information “on demand”. They can’t tell you what they want until they get there. And if they don’t get within a few minutes, they move on. Small helicopter like UAVs can help them assess a collapsed building, see people trapped on the other side of a pile of rubble, and get the views they want. Small, shoe-box sized robots can drive into rubble deeper than a search camera or boroscope can go, finding voids that would be otherwise missed. And unmanned marine vehicles can determine if the substructure of bridges and sea walls is still intact and whether rubble and debris is being washed into the footings and will cause damage.

We’re standing by, hoping to help and hoping to learn. And hoping that one day responders all over the world will have these robots to use immediately.