Rescue robots don't always have to be big and burly and complicated. Usually, if you put something big and burly and complicated in an environment with lots of water and dust, all the big and burly complicated bits get decidedly less complicated by virtue of ceasing to function. You can seal up individual parts (like wheels or tracks) as best you can, but sealing up the entire robot offers even more durability. The SCV (Slug Crawler Vehicle) from the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan relies on a flexible, waterproof "skin" to protect it from the elements while still allowing it to get around pretty well:
Here's what the Slug Crawler has going on inside:
You can sort of think of the robot like a little tank, except it's just one big flexible tread that wraps around the entire body. Steering is accomplished with two internal pulley systems that can swivel from side to side (it's the silver one in the pic above). Together, they pull the tread into an arc shape to change the direction of movement. It's robust, reliable, and completely protected against dirt and water, making it a (potentially) very effective search and rescue robot. To figure out how well it actually does work, the next generation of Slug Crawler will be bigger, more powerful, have better cameras, and users will be able to teleoperate it from a nice safe distance.
"Development of the high strength retractable skin and the closed type crawler vehicle" by Takeshi Aoki, Takahiro Karino, and Hiroyki Kuwahara of the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan, was presented at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in San Francisco in September.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.