I’m here at the UN World Disaster Conference where word of the destruction in Vanuata is coming in and our thoughts and prayers go to out the victims and families. It sounds like the effort is on humanitarian relief. I’m not seeing any discussion of mitigation/response/recovery of critical infrastructure, which is the historical focus of disaster robotics. Here’s some information on how robots have helped in 12 similar disasters.
Small unmanned aerial systems have been used by rescue authorities in 8 storm or flooding events: Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Wilma, Typhoon Morakot (Taiwan), Thailand floods, Typhoon Haiyan (Philippines), Boulder Colorado floods, SR530 mudslide and flood, Serbia floods. UAS are most often used for rapid reconnaissance and mapping of the extent of devastation, condition of transportation routes and what areas are cut off, power lines, and general hydrological and geological mitigation needed to predict, contain, or drain water, etc.
Small marine vehicles have been used by rescue authorities in 3 storm and flooding events: Hurricane Wilma, Hurricane Ike, Tohoku tsunami (Japan). They are mostly used to identify the state of bridges and ports, debris that is blocking ports or polluting fishing areas, and for the recovery of victims that were washed away into the sea. Plus they were used at the Haiti earthquake to clear underwater debris from the port to allow humanitarian relief supplies to be shipped in (it’s hard to feed a country via planes into a single airport). In Japan, the use of marine vehicles by the IRS-CRASAR team was credited for re-opening the Minamisaniruku new port 6 months earlier than would have been possible with manual divers and in time for the key salmon fishing season.
Unmanned ground robots are almost never used because commercial buildings rarely collapse in these conditions, it is mostly individual homes.