Robotics and Drones Increasingly Used for Search and Rescue Operations

According to the National Park Service, 46,609 people required search and rescue (SAR) services in the U.S. between 2004 and 2014. The death toll from these incidents was 1,578. The cost of the operations was more than $51.4 million during that time span.

Robots are increasingly being used by SAR organizations to cut costs, increase efficiency and keep the tragic loss of life as low as possible. Government agencies, companies and aid organizations are all turning to the development of robots, drones and artificial intelligence as aids in SAR missions. Timing is critical when it comes to rescue operations; robots and other technologies can reduce the duration of SAR undertakings as well as equip the team with an arsenal of information, which helps them arrive and perform their operations faster and effectively.


Robots are being used to aid in mapping and maneuvering areas during natural disasters, terror attacks, accidents and explosions. State-of-the-art robots can map out areas that have been destroyed, giving rescuers the ability to be better prepared for the operation. They have proven to increase the performance of rescue missions significantly.

Robots are able to assist firefighters because they can withstand higher temperatures as well as move without being affected by thick smoke or heavy flames. Humanoid robots have the ability to directly control ground-reaction forces and stabilize themselves. They can deliver up to 600 gallons of water per minute with remote-controlled machines that are equipped with multi-directional nozzles backed by pumps. These fire-fighting robots help first responders by controlling the flames and enabling firefighters to reach otherwise uninhabitable environments, including industrial, nuclear and chemical fires.

The RoboSimian, an ape-like robot created by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, has sensors that enable it to gauge terrain as it moves and appendages that allow it to manipulate equipment and tools. It is mobile and flexible, able to anchor itself to supports such as railings, ladders and stairs as well as brace itself during forceful manipulation operations. RoboSimian has new applications in complex environments, including gravel, deep water and inclement weather.


Commercial drones have been developed to process aerial data into 2D or 3D materials. With its ever-expanding library of analysis tools, these aerial mapping drones simplify data sharing. Their algorithms can create surveys rapidly and convert them into a PDF with images that include:

  • various compass directions
  • information on latitude/longitude
  • map projection
  • resolution and weather.

Automated analysis of aerial data acquired by the drones enable operators to interpret aerial data and provide an action-based report, which can improve management of assets.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Machines are being used by bomb squads to ensure safe and accident-free bomb disposal. These tend to be very tense and critical situations; drones that use artificial intelligence (AI) can work remotely with a bomb squad team to monitor the situation, analyze data sent from the drone and help machines with bomb defusal. Robots equipped with AI are able to provide enhanced capacities such as disarm traps, fireworks, explosive devices and other hazardous materials.

AI technology is also being used to find individuals during and after a major disaster. Sometimes survivors are left unconscious under layers of rubble; machines have been shown to detect life much faster, saving lives that otherwise likely would not have made it out.

There are many technology-based applications that are being developed to reduce the amount of money spent on disaster relief and, more importantly save lives and reduce the overall damage of major disasters. SAR technology has come a long way, with many avenues yet to be explored. Scientists are conducting research and developing new technologies at a rapid pace.

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