Special Coverage: 9-11-01

The following article appears in the journal JOM, 53 (12) (2001), pp. 4-7.

Remote-controlled Robots Search World Trade Center Rubble


Why Did the World Trade Center Collapse? Science, Engineering, and Speculation by Thomas Eagar and Christopher Musso

Better Materials Can Reduce the Threat from Terrorism by Toni G. Maréchaux

An Initial Microstructural Analysis of A36 Steel from WTC Building 7 by J.R. Barnett, R.R. Biederman, and R.D. Sisson, Jr.

News & Update

Figure 2. A robot prepares to enter a pipe to provide a view under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Figure 2

They may have looked like toys, but the remote-controlled vehicles that crawled through the World Trade Center debris had a most serious mission: to find victims.

One team of robots was the work of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR), out of the University of South Florida. As many as 17 CRASAR robots were on hand hours after terrorists leveled the twin towers. Other robots, supplied by the U.S. Navy and private companies, also searched the wreckage.

The CRASAR robots ranged from the size of a shoebox to that of a large suitcase. Most rolled on tank treads for better mobility on rugged terrain. Sensors provided the robots with a variety of capabilities. Some could detect heat through infrared cameras, others provided two-way audio communication through the use of a headset and microphone, and still others could provide color video.

Operators sent the robots, which were attached to a 30 meter tether, to explore openings in the rubble, such as holes or exposed pipes, searching for signs of life (Figure 2).

“This was the first known use of robots for urban search and rescue,” said Robin Murphy, an associate professor of computer science and robot expert with CRASAR. “These robots were going places you couldn’t put a dog or a person in.” No living victims were found, but five bodies were discovered and one set of remains.

Murphy’s research on rescue robots was originally funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The robots, which ranged in cost from $10,000 to $40,000, offered a significant improvement over fire department cameras used to peer into tight spaces. Those cameras were attached to two meter wands, according to the NSF.

Copyright held by The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, 2001

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