It is always difficult to write about 9/11 and the World Trade Center disaster, as the horror of the event still lingers in my mind.
For the first years after 9/11, I had little to report on the year in disaster robotics as adoption has been slow. But since 2010, the number of incidents that are using robots and using them quickly are rising, with 2011 being a major year with robots at the Christchurch and Tohoku earthquakes. Robots have been used in 35 disasters internationally, with ground robots being used most frequently from mine and building collapses, but UAVs and marine vehicles increasing in use as well. A Draganflyer UAV was credited with a live save of an injured and disoriented driver who had gotten out of his car in the cold of Canada, so that was a breakthrough this year- finally a rescue robot has saved a life.
Besides land, sea, and aerial robots are being used more frequently, another heartening trend is the emerging meme that robots can be used for prevention and preparedness of disasters, not just for response and recovery. Indeed the attendees of the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Safety Security and Rescue Robotics constructed a roadmap emphasizing this point, noting that this helps reduce the cost of the robots- if you use it every day for port security, for routine infrastructure inspection, you are likely to use it for the non-routine tasks as well.
But in the end, everyone here has the deepest condolences for the families of the victims and of the responders to 9/11. It was an honor to be there and to assist in a small way so that we can assist better in the future.