Where better for those curious about the use of robots in
the current disaster in Japan to turn for the inside scoop
than Japan's leading organization for rescue robotics, the
International Rescue System Institute
(IRS). However, understandably, the staff of IRS have been
too busy to update their website. So instead we turn to the
Dr. Robin Murphy,
Director of the
Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR)
and leader of the volunteer group
Roboticists Without Borders.
Aside from her expertise and leadership in the field,
and her readiness to deploy anywhere she might be needed,
Dr. Murphy had another reason to be well acquainted with
the state of rescue robotics in Japan and the initial use
of search and rescue robots in this particular disaster, as,
when the news of the earthquake arrived
Japan's leading rescue roboticists were just finishing a
week in Texas, participating in
a CRASAR-organized event.
The following day, March 12th,
the Japanese roboticists had arrived home, and two of the
teams which had participated in the exercises in Texas
expressed their intention to deploy, one to Sendai and the
other to Tokyo. Meanwhile, Dr. Murphy herself remained on
standby, awaiting an official invitation.
On Sunday, March 13th,
Dr. Murphy addressed the question of whether robots had
previously been used in a disaster resulting from an
earthquake. The answer was just once, in the 2010 Haiti
earthquake, although she has personally joined relief
efforts in a number of other disasters. In this entry
she also touched on the subject of self-deployment and
the problems it can cause.
Her Monday, March 14th entry
is more typical blog fare, linking to a couple of articles
and identifying a go-to person in Japan for questions
about rescue robotics.
Then follows a three-day gap, during which
at least one report
quoted Dr. Murphy as saying
ground robots are not going to be much use in this disaster,
because the rubble piles were mostly shallow and more easily
searched by people and dogs.
Posting again on Thursday, March 17th,
Dr. Murphy reported having heard back from colleagues in
the field and about inquiries she had been receiving. Fire
departments had not shown much interest in ground robots
for the rescue phase, but she is seeing
considerable interest in robots for recovery -
especially inspecting port and underwater infrastructure
as well as in removing rubble.
She followed this with a quick introduction to the
difficulties of designing robots to cope with nuclear
disasters, owing to the vulnerability of sensors and
integrated circuits in general to radiation.
Later on the 17th
Dr. Murphy relays a message received from Prof. Satoshi
Tadokoro, IRS Director, in which he expresses puzzlement
as to why firefighting robots weren't being used at the
Fukushima nuclear facility. Following this Dr. Murphy says
Emergencies are outside the normal so it's
hard to [spend] money in anticipation of them, hard to save
for that rainy day. The robotics community has so much
technology just 18 months from being hardened and packaged
for responders to use...
Returning to blog mode, yesterday,
Dr. Murphy takes Reuters to task for unfairly criticizing
Japan for its failure to produce robots to deal with
Keep up with the latest on
Dr. Robin Murphy's blog.