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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Technology Note

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports on how robots are helping the rescue and clean-up efforts at the World Trade Center site.


CURWOOD: Just ahead, the threat of biological terrorism and what the government can do about it. First, this Environmental Technology Note from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: Across the nation, millions of people are helping New Yorkers by making donations of time, money and even blood. But workers at Ground Zero are also getting some mechanical help from urban rescue robots, designed for use in military situations or natural disasters. About a dozen of these specialized robots have been called in from development labs around the nation. The smallest ones can fit in the palm of your hand. The big ones are about the size of a house cat. They can roll over themselves or stretch out to climb over tough terrain and fit into spaces too small for humans. Some are equipped with cameras, lights and microphones. Some have infrared sensors to detect heat and sonar systems to determine the exact proportions of the physical space around them. These bots are unaffected by high temperatures or stench that might make humans recoil. While hope is fading that they will be able to find anyone alive, these machines still have a role to play. They can venture into small spaces and test the stability of the surroundings. Robots have already been able to save the lives of firefighters by helping them avoid unsafe pockets. The robots being used now in New York are only prototypes. None are available commercially. Researchers say this tragic, unwanted test will help them make these robots more effective the next time they're needed. That's this week's technology note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.



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