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Tech tools to the rescue! Did you know there are special robots that specialize in helping first responders as they respond to emergencies? Robots have been on the front lines of many disasters. The National Science Foundation and the United States Naval Research Academy are responsible for much of the technology of these bots.  

One example is a Delta Robot, also called VGTV (short for Variable Geometry Tracked Vehicle—whew!) This bot was used after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. VGTV performed important inspections and searches for life in the wreckage of the buildings. It was also used in other natural disasters including Biloxi, Mississippi to search for human life in buildings that were unstable after a massive hurricane.


Typical rescue robots are small machines that move, blink, and hum as they go through debris. They can reach areas that rescue dogs and rescue humans may not be able to reach.  Some robots are small enough to squeeze through sewage pipes, while other bots can flatten themselves to go under objects. Many of these bots have special infrared and video cameras that can send images of what the bots “see” back to humans surveying the scene.


Robot rescuers are less likely to be affected by carnage or dust and smoke at a disaster site. This means they can go more places and do more like inspect structure flaws without the same risk as a human inspector. They can detect hazardous materials so there is less risk for human exposure. A rescue bot also does not get tired or feel sadness in the way a human or animal rescuer does. Small robotic contraptions move into a site alongside emergency workers, and they whizz and whirr and get their job done but leave without permanent injury.


Originally, the bots were constructed for tasks like military exploration, so they are built tough! A bot can even defuse explosives and run safety tests at nuclear and chemical installations without fear.  But despite their success rate, these robots are not replacing people. They are merely an extension of the human rescuer. The more data that is collected by rescue robots, the better prepared humans will be to help avoid future disasters.


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