US roboticists complete mission to Japan's tsunami-hit coast

The robots searched for victims in two of the most badly damaged cities

A team of American roboticists from the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue wrapped up five days of underwater search and rescue operations in northern Japan on Saturday.

During five days of work in two of the most badly damaged cities in northern Japan, they deployed three underwater remotely operated vehicles to check for victims and debris following the March 11 tsunami.

Six weeks from the disaster, more than 14,000 people are confirmed dead, and 12,000 remain unaccounted for. Some of the missing are believed to have been swept out to sea, and the robots were called in to search in areas judged too dangerous for Japan Coast Guard divers to enter.

"In particular, trapped under floating debris or washed up in dangerous places," said Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR), which is based at Texas A&M University. Murphy led the team of five roboticists in Japan and was speaking at a news conference on Sunday.

A SARbot from San Diego-based Seabotix was employed to search under debris. (Video of the robots and what they encountered underwater is available in this YouTube video.)

The robot can literally be thrown in the water and gets to work immediately.

Equipped with a sonar system, video camera, and powerful lights, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) connects via cable to a suitcase-size control system. The case includes a 20-inch display and Core2 Duo-based computer system, and a controller pad with a joystick for maneuvering the vehicle.

At one point it was sent to investigate the roof of a house, which was floating at sea.

"We were able to fly underneath the roof and all the debris and look up to see if there was anything that was trapped inside the roof space," said operator Jesse Rodocker, from SeaBotix.

Rodocker also showed video of a submerged car. The ROV was able to confirm there were no victims inside and determine the vehicle's license plate number. In some cases, it was also able to retrieve items from underwater. It has a grabber arm that can lift items weighing up to 100 kilograms (220.46 pounds).

A second device used to check debris was the AC-ROV, a Scottish-made remotely operated vehicle described as "basically a video camera with thrusters."

During the five-day mission, the ROVs didn't find any victims. It's now assumed that any bodies remaining in the water are probably tangled up in debris out of sight and reach of both divers and robots.

The second focus was scanning the seabed to locate any large pieces of debris that remained underwater and out of view. Large pieces of debris could endanger ships, so checking beneath the surface is a vital step toward reopening ports.

In Minamisanriku, a Seamor ROV with sonar was tasked with just that job. To the team's surprise, they didn't find a lot of debris on the seabed and almost everything located was not a danger to ships.

"All the fishing nets, all the ropes were at least 5 meters deep, except for one structure that was clearly visible above the water line," said Murphy.

The mission is the latest in a series of deployments for CRASAR. The center was responsible for the first use of ground robots at the World Trade Center site in New York shortly after the September 2001 terrorist attacks. The group also deployed small air vehicles after Hurricane Katrina and underwater ROVs after Hurricane Wilma.

The team that's been in Japan was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or
Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags roboticsCenter for Robot-Assisted Search and RescueAc-cessSeabotix

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?