Throwable Robots Join Race to Find Survivors at Florida Condo Collapse

Search and rescue teams are racing against the clock with 150 people still missing.
Chris Young
A FirstLook robot in action.Teledyne Flir

Robots have joined the rescue operation underway following the devastating collapse of a condo in Miami, Florida in the early hours of June 24, a report from The Washington Post reveals.

With almost 150 people still missing after the collapse of the Florida condo, first responders face a dangerous task as they rush to search the treacherous terrain. 

In order to aid the effort, at the same time as allowing human search and rescue teams to avoid the most dangerous sections of the collapsed building site, throwable robots from robotics firm Teledyne FLIR have joined in the search.

Robots can navigate treacherous terrain

The company sent at least two of its FLIR FirstLook robots to help a process that has already seen sonar and camera technologies deployed for search purposes.

The FirstLook robots are designed to crawl through tight spaces that are dangerous or otherwise impossible for humans to reach.

The machines feature thermal sensors, cameras, and two-way radios in order to relay information back to search and rescue operatives.

"In a collapse situation like this, the pile is structurally unsound and constantly vulnerable to shifting. It’s much safer to have a robot crawl deeper into a void than to have a person crawling into that void," Tom Frost, Teledyne Flir’s vice president of unmanned ground systems told The Washington Post.

Throwable Robots Join Race to Find Survivors at Florida Condo Collapse
A FirstLook robot being thrown during a military operation. Source: Teledyne Flir

The machines can be thrown into areas that are hard to reach where they will then use their wheels to search the rubble. Metal arms enable the robot to reposition itself if its wheels become stuck.

The FirstLook robots weigh approximately five pounds (2.2 kg) and are built to withstand drops of about 16-feet (5 meters) even when falling onto hard surfaces such as concrete.

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Teledyne Flir also sent another robot, called PackBot, for the rescue mission. This one was designed to move rubble and can shift load of approximately 40 pounds (18 kg). Both the PackBot and the FirstLook robots are semiautonomous, meaning they need an operator present during the search.

Condo collapse likely caused by 'reckless and negligent conduct

In the meantime, early indications suggest that the Florida condo collapse was a result of human error, with reports emerging that a 2018 survey had outlined substantial structural problems with the condo.

Throwable Robots Join Race to Find Survivors at Florida Condo Collapse
The condo building following the collapse. Source: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue/Twitter

According to a report from CNN, a class action lawsuit has been filed against the condo association, citing "reckless and negligent conduct" — the suit states that the association had been aware of structural problems in the condo for years before the collapse.

Teledyne Flir was formed only last month after aerospace electronics firm Teledyne Technologies, acquired Flir, a 42-year-old software company for $8 billion. The merged companies develop technologies predominantly for the military, space exploration, and for the deep sea.

This is a developing story and IE will update when more information emerges about the reasons behind the collapse and the search and rescue mission.

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