Throwable Ground Vehicles Sent to Aid Rescuers at Florida Condo Collapse

The FLIR PackBot as seen in the promotional footage uploaded to YouTube by Teledyne FLir. Screenshot: Teledyne Flir/YouTube ( Fair useTeledyne Flir is a company that manufactures small mobile robots equipped with thermal imaging cameras. Two of their robots were overnighted to Miami-Dade Fire Department with the hope that they might assist in the ongoing search-and-rescue operation following the devastating condo collapse in Surfside.AdvertisementSeven days of painstaking sifting through the debris from the Champlain Towers South collapsed on June 23, rescue workers were on the scene for seven days. CNN reported Wednesday afternoon that 16 people had died and 147 more were still missing.According to the Washington Post, Teledyne Flir sent a five-pound brick-shaped FirstLook robot equipped with small track wheels, obstacle-climbing arms, and weighed in at five pounds. It can be dropped on hard surfaces up to 16 feet high and can maneuver small spaces that humans cannot. It comes with a larger PackBot that is about the same size as a suitcase. It can hold loads up to 40 pounds. To move heavy objects, it uses a manipulator arm.Our systems are designed to send robots in first. This is the idea, according to Tom Frost, Teledyne Flirs vice-president of unmanned ground solutions. They are the perfect tool to use in unsafe situations.Frost said that in a collapse such as [Surfside], you will find small voids which are either dangerous or impossible to enter. The robot, which weighs in at 5 pounds, could crawl into these voids.The Post reported that the Miami-Dade Fire Department used sonar, aerial drones and sensitive microphones to search for survivors and bodies. However, it is not clear if they actually used the ground robots.YouTube promotional videos for the company place heavy emphasis on military applications and police applications. These include situational awareness in hostage situations and scouting fortified locations held by criminal suspects and enemy forces. They also dispose of dangerous materials like bombs. Teledyne Flir purchased Endeavor Robotics (formerly the defense-and-security division of iRobot), earlier in the year. The Herald reports that the Massachusetts State Police used an iRobot-made robot during a standoff against the Boston Marathon bombers in 2013. One of the most famous uses of similar robots by police was when Dallas officers killed a mass shooter. He had attached a bomb to a robot with manipulator arms and detonated it. However, that model was made by Northrop Grumman.Robin R. Murphy, Texas A&M's computer science and engineering professor, told the Conversation that these robots can be helpful in disastersresponders. They were used after the September 11 attacks on World Trade Center. Also, they were used to monitor the interior at Japans Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following a meltdown. However, they have limitations when it comes to navigating through concrete, sheetrock and piping.AdvertisementMurphy explained to the Conversation that search cams are limited to 18 feet. Ground robots can go 60 feet deep into rubble. They can also be used to enter unsafe areas that rescuers may not be able to fit into, but this would make it unsafe and require several hours of work to secure the area before any rescuer could safely get in.Murphy said that mobility is still a problem for these robots because of a variety of obstacles. This is because void spaces (air pockets within rubble) are too small to allow a robot turn around. It can't go back to a previous point without driving backwards. Also, the paths through the rubble can be very twisty or curvy. Rescuers must make robots drive on a variety of surfaces, including concrete slabs, carpet, and pulverized structural materials. The vehicles could also encounter water, dust, sewage and other hazards. The information provided can prove to be very valuable.AdvertisementMurphy explained to the Conversation that the biggest problem is actually seeing through the rubble. The rubble is basically made up of sheetrock, concrete, piping, piping, and furniture. You can put a robot in the rubble and then structural engineers can look inside the pile of pickup sticks. They will not be able to pull on it, which could cause secondary collapse. Okay, let's start from this side. We can get rid of the debris faster and more safely.Murphy stated that rescuers with this type ground robot have never been able to save anyone. Sometimes they have hindered emergency responders. For example, in New Zealand in 2010, a robot was soaked and had to be short-circuited as it searched for 29 miners trapped inside a tunnel collapse.AdvertisementThe cause of the collapse has not been revealed by authorities. The Miami Herald reported that TikTok video showed huge amounts of rubble and water rushing into the basement parking lot on the north side of buildings just minutes before the tragedy. Engineer Frank Morabito discovered a serious error in 2018's inspection. A lack of drainage and waterproofing above the garage pool had caused severe structural damage to concrete slabs below.It was constructed in 1979. The condo association approved a $15million assessment for extensive renovations. This was part of a 40 year recertification plan. CNN reports that survivors are beginning to raise serious questions about the time gap between the 2018 dire report and the actual start of repairs. Local 10 reports that a former treasurer called the association dysfunctional, describing it as having gone through five presidents in the space of five years. Jean Wodnicki, President of the Condo Association, wrote to homeowners in April that the building had fallen into serious disrepair because it was neglected maintenance that could be done years ago. The observable damage in the garage has also gotten worse since the initial inspection.AdvertisementWodnicki said that it is difficult to determine the extent of damage to the concrete without opening up the concrete. Sometimes the damage is greater than what can be seen from the surface. Concrete spalling can be seen as cracking. This is an indication that the rebar that holds it together is rusting. Concrete deterioration is rapidly increasing