Robotics technology advancements aid disaster relief, manufacturing

September 9, 2011
By: Amanda Carlson

The events of 10 years ago forever changed our lives, our country. Like many of you, I spent the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11 remembering where I was when the first tower fell, and recalling the variety of emotions that coursed through me as the events unfolded.

To this day many of us view firefighters, police officers, and emergency response personnel—those who willingly entered hostile situations in New York City and Washington, D.C., with bravery, courage, and no guarantees that they’d emerge safely--with more reverence than we did before. And after 10 years we continue to mourn for them, the victims, and their families.

On that day, however, a resource was deployed at Ground Zero that, up until then, had not been an option. This device was designed to protect more emergency personnel from harm and bring relief to disaster victims quickly—a robot.

A recent article described how PackBots®—shoebox-size robots that have tank-like treading on their wheels and shipping crane arms—rummaged through the World Trade Center debris searching for victims. They also assessed structural integrity by relaying rough images from areas that were hard for humans to reach.

Robots had never been used for disaster response before Sept. 11, said Joe Dyer, COO of iRobot, PackBot’s manufacturer. In fact, he said, the robots were taken directly from the lab and sent to Ground Zero. People control the PackBot’s movement with a joystick, which Dyer told CNN was inspired by the Microsoft Xbox® video game console.

Not only have we seen homeland security efforts stepped up in the 10years following the horrific terrorist event, we also unknowingly witnessed the coming-out party for these disaster relief robots. Since Sept. 11, the article stated, these robots have played a role in every major disaster, whether by land, sea, or air. In fact, an updated version of the PackBot was sent into the earthquake- and tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan earlier this year to monitor radiation levels and air temperatures in areas too dangerous for humans.

While robotics technology is advancing in disaster relief, it is also making gains in manufacturing and welding. But don’t let the phrase technology advancements scare you into thinking that it’s complicated. It’s quite the opposite. At least that was the message Brian Doyle, Miller Welding Automation sales manager, conveyed during the company’s open house last month.

Doyle simply stated, “You don’t have to be an expert in robotics to apply the technology, you just have to be an expert on your part.”

A plethora of opportunities exist for robotic welding in manufacturing: high-volume applications, joining together thick and thin material, and performing certified work for quality-conscious customers.

Welders should embrace these productivity tools and look forward to an exciting tomorrow.
Amanda Carlson

Amanda Carlson

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8260