Dogs are excellent at detecting humans, but robots could be another tool for searchers to use.
Harold Burrows, National Search and Rescue Dog Association
'Dogs can detect 15 of the 30 scents given off by the human body. They're also light and nimble, so can explore most collapsed buildings without causing extra damage. However, some sites are very hazardous - there is always a risk the dog won't come back alive. In those cases, it could be beneficial to send a machine in instead.'
Robots could definitely help us, but we've not yet found a technology that meets all our needs.
Kris Hurley, SARAID (Search And Rescue Assistance In Disasters)
'I'm an urban search-and-rescue technician - part of the frontline team during rescue operations. Our biggest challenge is accessing collapsed buildings, which are often unstable. We currently use cameras and sound and vibration detectors, but robots could definitely have a place in our work. They'd need to be easily transportable, very rugged and simple to operate. As yet, we've not come across anything that meets all the criteria.'
Moving about in a disaster zone is only part of the story - more work needs to be done on sensing technologies too
Jacques Penders, Sheffield Hallam University
'Our robotics team has been working with local firefighters to understand the real challenges of search-and-rescue operations. A big issue is the smoke and dust - conventional sensors like cameras and laser range finders are useless. We are focusing on touch sensors - using technologies like artificial whiskers. More research is needed, but we believe robots will definitely aid search and rescue in future.'
Image: Sheffield Hallam University
It's hard to test how a robot will cope with a real disaster zone.
Kyle Blanch, Warwick Mobile Robotics, University of Warwick
‘I’m a member of a student team building a search-and-rescue robot to enter the worldwide Robocup Rescue competition. Robots can detect things humans can’t – ours will be fitted with carbon dioxide sensors and infrared cameras. But a big challenge is that it’s difficult to recreate a realistic earthquake disaster zone to really put the robots to the test. Will they still work if it’s wet or dusty?’
Image: University of Warwick