Mexican Red Cross

On the 19th of September 2017, a deadly earthquake shook the centre area of Mexico. The disaster affected Mexico City and neighbouring cities severely. Almost 300 people died, and thousands more lost everything. As part of the search and rescue operation, Carnegie Mellon University researchers, in collaboration with Mexican Red Cross, deployed a snake-like rescue robot for the first time in the aftermath of a disaster situation.

The robotic snake was developed by Biorobotics Lab and has been considered a perfect fit for urban rescue maneuvers. A selected group of researchers arrived in Mexico City a couple of days after the earthquake. The project team worked intensely with Mexican Red Cross staff visiting affected areas where potential survivors might remain under the rubble. A perfect opportunity came up when visiting a collapsed building where three people were supposed to be trapped. The snake robot provided rescue workers with footage from two different passes through the debris but didn’t find any survivors.

Unfortunately, as operations moved from search and rescue to recovery, the robot is of no use when heavy equipment has been used.

“What happened in Mexico City over the past few days, I believe, is just the beginning of what will someday be a heroic story for robots.”
Andrew Moore

dean of the CMU School of Computer Science

The robotic snake has 16 degrees of freedom and a unique robotic ability to roll, including a frontal light and camera. This technology has been tested over the last 10 years. However, real-life situations don’t occur often. After the experiment in Mexico City, the research team notices several adjustments needed for the next snake-bot generation, including gas-leaks detectors, microphones and speakers to assist in identifying and communicating with trapped survivors. 


Although there is room for improvement, the snakebots can provide a more extensive variety of applications such as pipes and nuclear centres surveillance, as well as archeological examination. The use of robotics for humanitarian response is a topic that has evolved rapidly in the last years. In 2016, after Cyclone Winston crashed with South-Pacific countries, drones played a significant role in providing a detailed map of the priority affected areas.


Original story by Byron Spice, Carnegie Mellon University

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