Thursday, April 18, 2024

Throwable FirstLook robots sent to help find survivors in Miami collapse

As rescue teams continue to search for survivors amid the rubble of the collapsed condo in Surfside, Florida, they have increasingly high-tech tools at their disposal. Search, and rescue teams are racing against the clock, with 150 people still missing.

To support the work of human search and rescue teams, high-tech robots can approach the rubble of apartment buildings to search for missing people while keeping their operators out of harm’s way. Massachusetts-based robotics company Teledyne Flir sent the Miami-Dade Fire Department the Flir FirstLook, a rugged but lightweight drone that investigates dangerous and hazardous material.

Unlike human responders, FirstLook doesn’t have to worry about smoke inhalation, can easily move around the treacherous area, and won’t risk destabilizing the structure further.

Throwable FirstLook robots sent to help find survivors in Miami collapse.
FirstLook being thrown. Credit: Teledyne Flir

The FirstLook robots are designed to crawl through tight spaces that are dangerous or otherwise impossible for humans to reach. At the size of a brick, the robot can even be thrown into areas that are hard to reach, where they will then use their wheels to search the rubble. If it lands upside down, it has the capability to right itself.

FirstLook robots weigh approximately 2.2 kg and are built to withstand drops of approximately 5 meters, even when dropped on hard surfaces such as concrete. The robots feature thermal sensors, cameras, and two-way radios in order to relay information back to search and rescue operatives.

In a collapse situation like this, the pile is structurally unsound and constantly vulnerable to shifting. It’s much safer to have a robot crawl deeper into a void than to have a person crawling into that void,” Tom Frost, Teledyne Flir’s vice president of unmanned ground systems, told The Washington Post.

Teledyne Flir also sent another robot, called PackBot, on a rescue mission. It has a servo-arm that can move loads weighing around 40 pounds (18 kg). The robot weighs only 50 pounds (22.6 kg) and can be stored in a car trunk and deployed within two minutes. PackBot 510 is intended to be used to dispose of bombs, perform surveillance and reconnaissance, and handle chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents and other hazardous materials.

Both PackBot and FirstLook are semi-autonomous robots, which means they need an operator present during their search.