Anytime there's a disaster like the one in Bangladesh, or an earthquake, it's a race against time to find survivors.
And with huge chunks of concrete and debris, it can be dangerous, slow and painstaking work as rescuers have to be careful what they move and how they move it.
Well now, there's a new type of technology that looks like it could be straight out of a David Cronenberg movie. It's a "snake robot" that's designed to find people who are trapped.
Researchers at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University developed this marvel of engineering and tested it alongside traditional search-and-rescue sniffer dogs.
Engineers at the school's bio-robotics lab sent two dogs into a simulated collapsed building at an emergency-response training centre in Texas, with the snake robot in tow.
The dogs released the robot, which was allowed to wriggle free. Researchers hope this technology will one day be used to locate people trapped in areas that dogs can't access.
Researchers say the snake robot can "...thread through tightly packed volumes, accessing locations that people and machinery otherwise cannot use." Also, the ability of these robotic snakes "go beyond those of conventional wheeled and the recently developed legged robots."
The advantage of the snake robot is that it's got no legs and can slink over uneven terrain.
Snake robots have other advantages too: they can get through very small holes and they can be equipped with a video camera and a two-way speaker/microphone so rescuers could communicate with people who are trapped.
These snakes, like the real thing, also have protective skin to prevent debris from damaging it.
According to a BBC report, the snake's camera has software that ensures the video will always appear the right way up, whatever way the robot's camera is twisted. Video feeds are sent back through an attached wire linking the snake robot to its operators.
The snake robot was previously tested propelling itself up a tree and affixing itself to football goalposts.
The machine was able to do this thanks to accelerometers built into its sections, which detected the moment it hit the tree's bark. That triggered a coiling action, wrapping the robot's body around a branch so it wouldn't fall off.
Carnegie Mellon researchers posted a YouTube video (below) of their experiment. Take a look.
Via the BBC