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Testing Robotic Help for Rescue Workers

06/25/2007 -In the not too distant future, instead of a dashing firefighter saving you from a blaze single-handedly, you may also have to thank the kin of C-3PO. Leaps in technology have already introduced robots into military roles, and before too long, robots will be integrated into first reponses as well, reports the New York Times.

To move this hypothetical from the movie screen to actual emergency responses, the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the Commerce Department have sponsored robotic training exercises at Disaster City - a first responder training site operated by Texas A&M'sTexas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX).

The robots featured include the Active Scope Camera and the AirRobot. The Active Scope Camera, developed by the International Rescue System Institute's Tadokoro Laboratory, slithers like a snake and can squeeze its way into tight areas and beam back video to first responders. The device is perfect for finding buried survivors or detecting dangerously cracked foundations.

The AirRobot - developed by a German company of the same name - can fly 25 mph, soar to 3,000 feet, and hover above ground, making it a perfect solution for spotting survivors from the air. The U.S. military is currently using the robot to spot insurgent hideouts and spy explosive devices. It has also been used to assist with mountain rescues in Switzerland.

The article quotes the Interim Director of TEEX, Gary Sera, as saying robot deployment during rescues is "on the horizon," with the major remaining obstacles being sensor technology and battery life.