Crews now have small robots they can enlist in the search of the rubble at the Florida condominium collapse, but the decision to use them isn't as clear-cut as it might sound. The Teledyne Flir machines are small—one the size of a brick, the other the size of a small suitcase—and can go into spaces where people can't safely, the Washington Post reports. And they can be tossed or dropped into place. "You can take this robot and throw through a window or throw it on a roof, and get to really hard-to-access places," said Tom Frost, a company executive. The robots have thermal sensors, cameras, and two-way radios. And they've done this before, having been used at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and by police in hostage situations.
The company sent an operator to work with the rescue crews at the Surfside site, per the Miami Herald. But because the robots are not human, they're not always as much help as the operators would like. The machines' radio signals could become blocked by debris, and there might not be any spots where their presence is helpful. A robot delayed a rescue mission in 2010 when it short-circuited and became stuck while looking for trapped coal miners in New Zealand. "You don’t want a robot to fail in the one spot that would block any other robot or person from getting in," said a professor of computer science and engineering professor with recovery experience. "We've got to make sure the robots are actually helping." (Read more Florida condo collapse stories.)