Robotic Search Effort in Japan

Football-size robots will be searching underwater in earthquake, tsunami ravaged areas.


Special to USF News


SENDAI, Japan (April 19, 2011) – A researcher from the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science has joined a robotic search team led by former USF Professor Robin Murphy in searching underwater areas of Japan for damaged bridges, docks, pipelines and victims from last month’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.


Karen Dreger of USF’s Center for Ocean Technology arrived in Japan on Monday as part of the team of experts deploying four state-of-the-art small underwater vehicles led by Murphy, now director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) at Texas A&M University with funding from the National Science Foundation. The group will be working with their Japanese counterparts in inspecting the underwater areas and searching for disaster victims.


Restoration of utilities, transportation, and shipping typically depend on inspections by manual divers, who must work in murky waters and in fear of debris being washed into them by the high currents, Murphy said. Advanced underwater vehicles have been used in the aftermath of Hurricanes Wilma and Ike and the Haiti Earthquake, but little is understood about how these robots can be used for disasters or how they can be designed to be more effective, she said.


In order to learn more about these technologies while helping local townships, the International Rescue Systems institute in Japan invited the team to assist with an intense five-day effort from April 19-23 around Sendai and Minami-sanriku-cho.


The robots vary in size from the tiny football-sized AC-ROV to the suitcase-sized Seamor, making them easy to transport to the ravaged coastline around Sendai. Three of the robots carry specialized sonars that can see through muddy water and one, the Seabotix SARbot, has a gripper designed especially for rescuing victims trapped underwater.  All of the robots have a tether to allow the operators to see and control the vehicles in real time.


The five person team also includes former USF faculty member Eric Steimle, now the head of St. Petersburg robotics company, AEOS.  The team members are donating their time and equipment through the CRASAR humanitarian Roboticists Without Borders program.


CRASAR is the leading organization in the world and has deployed land, sea, and aerial robots to 11 previous disasters including the 9/11 World Trade Center Collapse and Hurricane Katrina.


-       Media contact: Vickie Chachere, 813-974-6251.