Robots search for survivors at Ground Zero
The MicroVGTV robot helps rescue workers at the World Trade Center.
New York—With smoke rising from fires located deep in the ruins of the World Trade Center, flare-ups as pockets of smoldering debris are exposed to oxygen, and the house-of-cards disorder of thousands of tons of debris, rescue workers turned to track-mounted robots donated by private firms, the military, and universities to search for survivors in areas too hazardous for humans or dogs.
The MicroVGTV robot from Inuktun Services in British Columbia, Canada, is typical. Measuring 6.5 inches wide, 12.5 inches long, and 2.5 inches high (16 by 32 by 6 centimeters), the robot carries charge-coupled device (CCD) light sensors that deliver television images with a resolution of 450 lines for color images (400 lines for black and white images) to the operator.
The operator controls the lens and focus remotely, selecting the camera direction and depth of field while watching an ordinary monitor. The operator can point the lens in virtually any direction. The rubber-tracked vehicles climb up and down inclines ranging up to 30° off the horizontal—40° when there’s good traction—and crawls over 2 by 4–sized obstacles without difficulty.
The robot delivers information to the operator through a 100-foot tether. In addition to delivering TV signals, the robot carries a microphone and speaker so the operator can communicate with any survivor the robot finds.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research provide most of the funding to develop search and rescue robots, beginning the programs shortly after the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.