We're not surprised to see robots aiding in disaster relief efforts in Haiti. Beale Air Force Base has dispatched a Global Hawk UAV that will provide aerial imagery to support humanitarian efforts. But it looks like ground-based search and rescue robots may not be as useful as in past disasters. Dr. Robin Murphy of CRASAR says they are unlikely to send a ground-based search and rescue robot team as their robots are primarily useful in large building collapses, not in residential areas, "dogs smell much faster than the most agile robot can get in the rubble." She goes on to say,
In these large geographically distributed disasters, aerial assets are helpful in establishing what is damaged, where people appear to be in the most danger or need, and whether roads are passable. Marine vehicles can be of value in inspecting sea walls and checking shipping channels.
The United Nations has deployed several USAR teams into Haiti from around the world, including two teams from the US. One is the California heavy rescue task force, CA-TF2, a 70 person team with 55,000 lbs of urban search and rescue gear and medical equipment. Second is the Virginia VA-TF1 team with another 72 personnel and 48 tons of heavy equipment. Both teams have used search and rescue robots on past missions but there's no word yet on exactly what equipment was shipped to Haiti. It is known that both teams will make heavy use of canine teams. The US Government has deployed military teams to Haiti as well. US Air Force teams will repair runways and set up air traffic control needed to get the main airport back in operation. The US Navy is deploying at least 7 vessels including a hospital ship, along with teams for rescue, salvage, and construction. The aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, which is en route, typically carries ROVs, AUVs, and Predator UAVs. US Coast Guard cutters, C-130 aircraft, and helicopters have been deployed for search and rescue. If you want to do something to help as well, visit Google's Haiti disaster response page.