Robots play a vital mapping and imaging role in search and rescue missions, but they have size constraints that limit usefulness in unstructured rubble, Texas A&M University professor Robin Murphy says. In an interview, Murphy explores robots’ capabilities in these scenarios and in infrastructure inspection and how the technology is advancing.



As the remaining structure of the collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, was demolished over the July 4th weekend, construction technology’s role in disaster recovery has taken on new importance.

Rescuers on site in Surfside have turned to some high-tech innovations to help them in their search for survivors and remains. The National Institute of Standards and Technology used LiDAR technology to map out the interior of the formerly standing portion of the building prior to its demolition. In addition, drones allowed rescuers to get a bird’s-eye view of the collapse and help plan the search, and infrared imaging technology allowed responders to search for signs of life amid the rubble.

One question that remains unanswered is whether robots can be used in disaster scenarios. Many experts say that robots are still not advanced enough to significantly help in rescue operations in an unstructured rubble environment like a building collapse, but a meaningful push by government funding and a more direct focus on research and development could help change that.

One issue is that there is little financial incentive to develop robots like these, said Robin Murphy, Raytheon professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M University, who specializes in the field of rescue robotics. Here, Construction Dive speaks with Murphy about how robots can be used in disasters and in construction.